Obama on Republicans and jobs bill: ‘No we can’t’

Washington Bureau

In a twist on his campaign slogan, President Obama suggested Tuesday that Republicans are adopting a “No we can’t’’ approach to the nation’s jobs crisis by heeding the tea party and opposing necessary steps to boost the economy for no other purpose than to deal him a political setback.

Obama spoke at a local YMCA on the second day of his bus tour through North Carolina and Virginia, a campaign-style trip in which he is trying to rebuild his standing in two battleground states and put pressure on Congress to vote for his jobs package.

He warned that opponents of his $447-billion jobs bill risk a public backlash.

Should lawmakers vote against proposals that would stave off teacher layoffs and fix aging roads, they’ll need to explain their actions to angry constituents, he said.


“They’re going to have to come down to North Carolina and tell kids why they can’t have their teachers back in the classroom,’’ Obama said. “They’re going to have to tell those construction workers -- look them in the eye -- and say, ‘You know what? Sorry. We can’t afford to rebuild those broken-down roads and those crumbling bridges.’ ’’

Obama rallied voters in the 2008 election with an affirming message: “Yes we can.’’

Recalling those headier times, he urged those in the crowd to phone, write and tweet their support for his jobs plan.

“Remind them of what’s at stake here,’’ he said. “Remind them that ‘No we can’t’ is no way to face tough times. When the Great Depression hit, we didn’t say, ‘No we can’t. When World War II came, we didn’t say, ‘No we can’t.’ ‘’

Republicans have been dismissive of the bus tour and are showing no more appetite for Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act, a piece of which may be voted on by the Senate later this week.

The Republican National Committee on Tuesday released a Web video deriding the trip as “The DEBT End Bus Tour.’’

In a floor statement Tuesday, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky accused the president of trying to “deflect attention from [his] record.’’

McConnell said: “He wants people to think that the problem isn’t his policies. It’s those mean Republicans in Congress who oppose them.’’


Between speeches devoted to his jobs plan, Obama is working in some retail politics. His black, armored bus has been stopping in small towns for unannounced visits to stores and lunch spots. He cooed over a baby at a general store in Boone, N.C., on Monday, after scooping up gobs of Halloween candy at a general store.

On Tuesday, he stopped at Reid’s House Restaurant near the North Carolina-Virginia border to shake hands with the lunchtime crowd.

“Oh, the funeral home business,” he said excitedly to one potential voter. “Fantastic. That’s important work.”

The idea seems to be to reintroduce himself to voters in advance of the 2012 election, following nearly three years of slow economic progress and toxic partisan clashes in Washington. Polls show Obama’s approval rating is sagging in North Carolina and Virginia -- states he captured in 2008. Obama’s advisors say they are not writing off either state. With the ability to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funds, Obama has the luxury of competing in parts of the country that are leaning Republican.


His relationship with voters needs some repair work, though, experts said.

“What these bus tours do is remind people who supported Obama why they supported him and build up some enthusiasm, so that people will want to work for Obama in the 2012 election,’’ said Stephen Farnsworth, an associate professor at George Mason University and author of “Spinner-in-Chief: How Presidents Sell Their Policies and Themselves.’’

“Current circumstances have been discouraging. Obama hasn’t been able to get his economic policies passed. So one of the key things a president facing reelection has to do is get workers energized and get them motivated to be part of the campaign.’’

While inviting Republicans to vote for his jobs plan, Obama is making no special effort to flatter GOP lawmakers. He has painted a grim picture of Republican policy ambitions. Republicans are less interested in creating jobs than rolling back some of the signature laws passed early in his term, Obama said.


“You can’t pretend that creating dirtier air and water for our kids, and fewer people on healthcare, and less accountability on Wall Street is a jobs plan,’’ he said Tuesday. “I think more teachers in the classroom is a jobs plan. More construction workers rebuilding our schools is a jobs plan. Tax cuts for small-business owners and working families is a jobs plan. That’s the choice we face. And it’s up to you to decide which plan is the real American Jobs Act.’’