Barack Obama photo

Remarks at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Fundraiser in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

November 14, 2013

The President. Thank you. Everybody, have a seat. Thank you.

Now, I've got my own version of this: If David and Rhonda had just hosted one of my first fundraisers after I'd been elected to the United States Senate, that would have been enough. Dayenu. [Laughter] If they had been—just hosted one of my first Presidential fundraisers, dayenu. [Laughter] I have been here so much, the only thing I haven't done in this house is have seder dinner. [Laughter] But they have just been such great friends, and I'm so grateful to them, and I really appreciate it.

In addition to David and Rhonda, I want to just acknowledge a couple of other folks here. You've got an outstanding mayor here in Philadelphia, Mr. Michael Nutter. We're very, very proud of him. And you also have in your presence not just two of our best legislators, but two of my favorite people, period. They are gentlemen. They are in public service for the right reasons. They are what's called workhorses as opposed to show horses in Congress. And they've got wonderful families. Part of the reason I may just like them so much is, they've got a lot of daughters. [Laughter] And so we've got that dad-bonding thing. But I'm so glad to call them my friends, and we're lucky to have them: your own Bob Casey and Michael Bennet from Colorado. So, thrilled to have them here.

One of the benefits of this kind of format is that I don't have to make a long speech, but instead we can have a dialogue, have an interaction. So let me just make some brief remarks at the top.

I think David made a critical point, which is, as President of the United States, everybody says, well, the most powerful office on Earth is yours. And yet almost everything I do depends on the hard work and cooperation of Members of Congress. And that's hard to find sometimes in this political environment.

But we have been blessed with a Democratic Senate that cares about the issues that so many of you have been working for so long. We could not have brought the economy back from the brink had it not been for people like Bob and Michael being in a position to take some very tough votes. Right now the auto industry bailout is very popular. At the time, it polled at about 10 percent. But they knew it was the right thing to do. It was because of them that we were able to make progress on issues like health care reform. It's because of them that we were able to make sure that young people got more help when it came to dealing with college costs. It was because of them that we were able to get rid of "don't ask, don't tell."

And so that list of accomplishments, obviously I take great pride in, but it is really a partnership. And particularly at a time when Washington is so polarized, if we do not have at minimum a Democratic Senate, it is very hard to see how we can make some of the advances that we need to make on work that is still undone. And I've got 3 years left in this office. In addition to fixing a web site. I would—[laughter]—I want to make sure that we're rebuilding our infrastructure all across the country. I want to make sure that we are investing in early childhood education that we know gives us the biggest bang for the buck in assuring that every child in this country is prepared for a career in the 21st century.

I still want to make sure that we are building on all the success we've had in promoting an all-of-the-above energy strategy, not just oil and gas, but solar and wind and biofuels. I want to make sure that in our foreign policy that we can continue to pursue peace and diplomacy, not just in the Middle East, but around the world.

And to do all that—in addition to getting Deputy Assistant Secretaries of whatever agency you want confirmed—I've got to have a Democratic Senate to do it. And the only way that we're going to be able to succeed in that task is if all of you step up. The way the Senate works, the way these elections work, there are cycles, and the maps are laid out, and each election cycle a certain number of Senators are up. And this time out, we've got what is considered a tough map. Most of the seats that are contested are Democratic seats in States, some of which I won, some of which I lost, but all of which are tough. And so it's going to be very important for us to be able to get our message out over the next year. And for you guys to step up the way you have is extraordinary.

So I want to say thank you, but I also want to remind you of something that a dear friend of mine, Ab Mikva, that used to be a Congressman from the North Shore of Chicago and went on to be a Federal judge, White House Counsel, has had a storied career—he was one of my early mentors when I was thinking about elective office. He said that being friends with a politician is like having a child perpetually in college. Every so often, you just have to write this really big check. [Laughter] And it seems like it never ends. In the case of a child in college, it does end; in the case of politicians, it does not. [Laughter] So the analogy breaks down. But we are going to need all of you to really push hard because the stakes could not be higher.

Last point I'll make, and then I want to open it up for questions. Obviously, this year and over the last 3 years, we've seen a level of polarization that seems unique. But the truth is, is that as you travel around the country—the country, ordinary folks aren't as polarized as Washington would make us think.

Audience member. Thank God.

The President. Thank God, yes. That's important. But the only way that we advance the issues that people around the country care about is if we synch up the spirit and the goodness and the decency of the American people with our politics. And there is a whole bunch of stuff that mitigates against that: gerrymandering and the way campaigns are financed and super PACs and the Balkanization of the media. All of that pushes us apart.

What can bring us together is when we've got people like Bob and we've got people like Michael who are principled and strong, but also recognize that before we became Democrats or Republicans, we were Americans. And so if we want that kind of politics, we've got to fight for it, and we've got to pay for it. And all of you have stepped up in the past, and I'm grateful that you're going to be willing to step up in the future as well.

So thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 7:24 p.m. at the residence of David L. and Rhonda R. Cohen. In his remarks, he referred to Sen. Michael F. Bennet, in his capacity as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Audio was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

Barack Obama, Remarks at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Fundraiser in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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