President Barack Obama is back in town tonight, doing some birthday fundraising for his 2012 re-election bid at a North Side concert hall.
Obama addressed the larger group, talking about the economy he inherited upon taking office and the steps he took to try to do address it. "We're not even halfway there yet," Obama said. "We knew this was going to take time. Because we've got this big, messy tough democracy."
"I hope we can avoid another self-inflicted wound like we saw over the last couple weeks," Obama said. "Because we don't have time to play these partisan games...We have too much to do."
Hudson led the other acts in singing "Happy Birthday" as Obama took the stage.
The president joked about turning 50 on Thursday. "By the time I wake up, I'll have a letter from the AARP, telling me to call President Obama and tell him to protect Medicare," he said.
Big-dollar donors get to attend a dinner fundraiser along with the concert at a cost of $35,800 a person. As has been the practice, the money raised will be divided between Obama's re-election fund and the Democratic National Committee.
Along with those events, Obama’s presidential campaign is holding more than 1,100 “house parties” across the country to serve as birthday parties and organizational meetings for the re-elect.
After arriving at the Aragon at about 6:30 p.m., Obama went to a backstage room where he was to speak via the web to the house parties. Herbie Hancock was performing as Obama got to the venue.
Obama came onto the teleconference at 7 pm, noting that he was "beaming in fromChicago."
"You may hear the L train in the background. It's passing right next to us," Obama said as the Red Line could be heard rumbling past the Aragon.
Then he started pushing his supporters to get organized, saying that people working as teams can better get out his re-election message.
"It starts now," he said.
Fighting for working families and creating jobs is somethg that has to take place on the ground level, Obama said, referencing his background as a community organizer. "These bread and butter issues were not going to be settled in Washington," he said.
A North Carolina house party sang him "Happy Birthday" before one of the attendees asked the president how to talk to people about the president's position on taxes and the wars.
"You've got to listen as much as you talk," Obama said, adding that people don't want to listen to intricate platform positions on things like taxes. "They want to know what we stand for," he said.
Obama made several references to the debt ceiling fight when talking about the challenges of his first term. "This past week was a frustrating week," he said before wrapping up the teleconference.
After his speech to the crowd in the hot ballroom, Obama retired to the much more exclusive fundraiser on the second floor of the old dance hall. About 100 people dined at tables in a curtained-in section of the balcony.
Obama took off his suit jacket as soon as he entered the room with the high rollers, declaring it "too hot."
Emanuel promptly retrieved Obama's jacket and slung it over his own chair, saying he would keep an eye on it.
"Thank you, now that is service," Obama said to Emanuel. "I still have a pothole in front of my house."
Then Obama talked about pushing for policies that allow America to be competitive into the future while taking care of the less fortunate.
"All of us have a role to play in that kind of America, and all of us have sacrifices to make to deliver that kind of america," he said.
"Slash and burn politics" make it difficult to deliver on that vision, Obama said, but promised to stay focused.
The president was to enjoy a two-layer cake from Eli's, one layer chocolate, the other carrot cake, according to Eli's representatives on hand.
But after about six minutes of remarks by the president, the press pool was ushered out as he got ready to take questions from attendees, before cake was served.
The president landed at O'Hare International Airport shortly before 6 p.m. and was met by new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his former White House chief of staff. Obama talked to some of two dozen or so assembled supporters, including a baby who was smiling but refused to cooperate and give him a high-five. He shook her small fist instead.
Obama returned toChicago after a day-long exchange of attacks and defenses of his presidency.
Emanuel defended his former boss against heavy Republican criticism.
The chairmen of the national and state GOP ripped Obama for raising campaign cash while national unemployment remains high. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney released a web video featuring empty storefronts and abandoned city streets, an attempt to connectChicago’s struggling economy to the president’s political fortunes.
Emanuel took the opportunity to highlight Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts.
“I’d just like to note to the governor, in case he needs a rendezvous with his record, when he was governor Massachusetts (lagged behind) in job production,” said Emanuel, who took questions at a news conference about a technology week inChicago. “In case he forgot that, I’d like to remind him of that.”
During the prolonged debate over raising the debt ceiling, the most important thing for the president was making sure the country did not default, Emanuel said.
“He is willing to do unpopular things, the necessary things to keep this country moving forward. I have great admiration for his determination, his grit, his willingness to not do the politically easy thing, to do the tough things,” Emanuel said. “Sometimes I would advise him to do the politically easier thing and he rejected that advice because it was not good for the country in the long term.”
Emanuel’s comments came after Reince Priebus, who chairs the Republican National Committee, and Illinois GOP chair Pat Brady, also criticized Obama for what they said was a lack of leadership in the debt and deficit-cutting deal. They also resurrected Hillary Clinton’s argument in the 2008 Democratic primary that the “present” votes Obama cast as an Illinois state senator reflected a governing style of indecision.
“After failing to lead during the debt-ceiling debate, I think you can say the fundraiser in chief is back inChicago doing the one thing that he’s really good at—and that’s raising money to save his job,” said Priebus, a former chair of the Wisconsin GOP, on a conference call with reporters.
“Right now our economy’s in the ditch. We’re spending more money than we can afford. We’ve lost 2.5 million jobs since this president’s taken office, yet the only job Barack Obama seems to be concerned with is his own,” he said. “And leaders lead and this president’s leadership has really been non-existent.”
Both Republicans chastised the Democratic president for once again announcing that the administration was pivoting into job-creation mode after making similar vows in the past. The White House announced earlier today that Obama would be conducting a mid-August bus trip in the Midwest to push job creation.
Brady said Illinois' unemployment rate increased since Obama became president.
“Anybody who is actually from here and watched Sen. Obama in both the state Senate and the United States Senate, he did not have a history of leadership. In fact if you recall, (2008 Democratic primary challenger and current Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton raised in one of the debates he voted present 126 times in the Illinois Senate,” Brady said. “I think it’s instructive that the button that you push when you’re voting present is yellow.”
During the 2008 campaign, a Tribune review of Obama's voting record found that he voted present on 129 bills and 11 personnel appointments out of roughly 4,000 votes cast during his nearly eight years in Springfield. Many of Obama’s present votes were cast while Republicans had control of the state Senate.
While they attacked Obama for fundraising, neither Priebus nor Brady would say when they thought an appropriate time existed for a sitting president to engage in fundraising. “It’s not that he’s doing fundraisers,” Priebus said. “It’s that he’s obsessed with it. That’s the news.”
Obama’s Chicago events marks the president’s first money-raising effort in weeks as Washington was bogged down in a partisan dispute over raising the nation’s debt ceiling and deficit cutting efforts. Obama cancelled several fundraising trips during the gridlock that was broken Tuesday, when he signed a compromise measure.
The president’s return to his hometown, the first trip back since April, also was mocked in a web video by Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney. Among the video images is an empty Grant Park, which was the home of Obama’s massive 2008 election night victory rally and statistics about the city’s economic problems.
Romney has faced criticism himself for not conducting an aggressive early presidential campaign as the presumptive Republican frontrunner. Romney’s campaign has indicated the former Massachusetts governor will be stepping up his efforts in the coming weeks.
Across the street from the Aragon, about four dozen people protested against the aggressive deportation policies they said the Obama administration has pursued against illegal immigrants.
Crowded around a cardboard three layer birthday cake on which "Happy birthday, Deportation President" was scrawled, they sang songs, chanted "Si, tu puede stop deportation" and other slogans, and waved signs, some of which read "We hoped for better."
Back in April, Obama was home for the first time since formally announcing his re-election bid. An estimated 2,300 people paid $100 to $250 to hear him speak at Navy Pier's Grand Ballroom.
Last month, the president's re-election effort reported collecting $86 million during the second quarter of the year. That easily outdistanced the amounts raised by his Republican opponents. Obama raised more than $47 million through his presidential campaign and an additional $38 million-plus with the DNC, which can collect much larger sums.
The president was back at O'Hare by about 9:40 p.m. and Air Force One took off about 9:51 p.m. to return to Washington, D.C.