LANSDOWNE, Va. — Predicting a tough road ahead, President Barack Obama urged House Democrats to stick to their principles on guns, immigration and the economy as they confront congressional Republicans in legislative fights to come.
Addressing Democratic lawmakers who assembled Thursday for their annual retreat in Lansdowne, Obama said that one fundamental question will guide all of his second-term policies: Whether the policy gives every American a fair shot at success.
“It won’t be smooth. It won’t be simple. There will be frustrations. There will be times when you guys are mad at me, and occasionally I’ll read about it,” Obama said. He asked Democrats to keep in mind their aspiration to better their community that prompted them to seek public office in the first place. “If we keep that in mind every single day,” he said, “I have no doubt that we will continue the extraordinary progress that we’ve made already.”
To House Democrats fatigued from spending the past few years in the minority, Obama offered a glimmer of hope:
“As a byproduct of doing that good work and keeping that focus, I would expect that Nancy Pelosi is going to be Speaker again pretty soon,” the president said, referring to the California Democrat who served as House speaker before Republicans took control of the chamber in 2010.
Offering hints about the issues he will highlight Tuesday night in his annual State of the Union address, Obama said lawmakers should expect to hear him talk about job creation, education, clean energy and taxes and spending, among other issues.
He said he’s still anxious to achieve a broad budget deal with Republicans, but brushed off a GOP plan to avert impending across-the-board spending cuts that he argued would spare the wealthy from sacrifice while putting all the burden on more vulnerable groups like seniors and disabled children.
“If that’s the choice we’ve got, I promise you we can win that debate, because we’re on the right side of this argument,” Obama said.
After Obama’s brief public remarks to the House members, reporters were ushered out of the room before he took lawmakers’ questions in private.
White House officials say Obama’s top priority is job creation and that he will make a case for fiscal policies that encourage economic growth. Setting up a contrast with Republicans who are insisting on spending cuts, not tax increases, to stanch federal red ink, Obama told reporters Tuesday, “We can’t just cut our way to prosperity.”
Obama met privately for more than two hours Wednesday with Senate Democrats. The White House said the president spoke briefly, took questions from 10 of the senators assembled, then spent an hour chatting with them in smaller groups. Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, said the session was focused on coordinating what Democratic senators are doing with the administration’s own efforts to promote Obama’s priorities.
The meeting with House Democrats follows Wednesday’s vote in the Republican-controlled House that would require the president to submit a budget that balances the federal ledger. The bill was symbolic, meant as a taunt to the president. It has little chance in the Senate but, still, 26 House Democrats voted for it.
In the Senate, Democrats hold the majority and can be far more effective at driving Obama’s legislative agenda. But a unified Democratic caucus in the House is critical on issues that might divide Republicans, such as an overhaul of immigration laws or even some fiscal policies.
Carney has said Obama and lawmakers have made “significant progress” toward a bipartisan deal on immigration. The Senate has taken the lead assembling comprehensive legislation, including a path to citizenship for the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.
Gun control has been a thornier issue. Many Democrats are reluctant to embrace Obama’s call for banning certain weapons. But Obama has argued that other proposals, such as universal background checks, have broad public support.
Vice President Joe Biden, addressing House lawmakers at the retreat Wednesday, said they can support the measures he and Obama are proposing without fear they’ll be booted from office. He urged them not to learn the wrong lesson from the 1994 election, when Democrats lost control of Congress after supporting a ban on assault weapons that has since expired.
“I’m here to tell you the world has changed,” Biden said. “Public attitudes have changed since 1994. Social media has changed. The ability to misrepresent our positions has changed.”
On fiscal issues, Obama is calling on Congress to pass a short-term package of spending cuts and tax revenue to give lawmakers time to negotiate a broader deficit-reduction deal and to avoid deep spending cuts that are set to automatically kick in on March 1.