President Obama on Thursday charged that lawmakers in Congress are too focused on "ginning up a base" before the midterm elections, but he pleaded with a town hall audience gathered in a park in Minneapolis to resist the urge to grow cynical.
"It must feel like sometimes you're just forgotten" by Washington, Mr. Obama said, with congressman pursuing "Washington fights."
"They're fabricated issues, phony scandals," he said. It's not on the level, and that must feel frustrating. It makes people cynical, and it makes people turned off from the idea that anything can get done."
The president didn't mention anything specifically, but the White House has been highly critical of the Republican-led House's insistence that the misconduct at the IRS may have been politically motivated. The White House also criticized the lawsuit that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, plans to file against the president for overstepping his executive authority. Boehner has yet to say what specific presidential actions he plans to challenge. The administration has also, in the wake of GOP attacks, defended its handling of the recently-captured Benghazi suspect.
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"We've got a party on the other side whose only rationale, motivation seems to be opposing me," Mr. Obama said Thursday. "Despite all that, we're making progress."
The president cited the fact that employment numbers have steadily improved, while more Americans are getting health insurance, among other things. His positive economic message, however, comes one day after the Commerce Department announced that the economy contracted by nearly 3 percent in the first quarter of 2014.
Mr. Obama was in Minnesota Thursday for the the first in a series of person-to-person meetings designed to cast the administration, and Democrats, as more concerned about everyday Americans than Republicans. Before the town hall, the president had lunch with Minnesota resident Rebekah Erler, who wrote to the president about the high cost of child care.
Earlier in the week, Mr. Obama held a Working Families Summit at the White House.
While taking questions during the town hall, Mr. Obama had the opportunity to address a number of pocketbook issues, such as higher education costs, ensuring women receive equal pay for equal work, and enacting paid family leave rules. Women shouldn't be punished economically because "a company doesn't give them enough maternity leave or a enough flexibility," he said.
When asked about ways to reduce gun violence, the president pessimistically said that gun control advocates must keep longterm "sustained" pressure on Congress to pass any legislation.
"It's going to have to keep on going for several years before we're able to make progress," he said. "Honestly, this is not going to change unless the people who want to prevent these kinds of mass shootings... are at least as passionate and at least as organized... as the NRA and the gun manufacturers are."
Mr. Obama reiterated that the failure to pass a background check bill in the wake of the 2012 Newtown, Conn., shooting "was probably the most disappointing moment I've had with Congress." He noted that his administration is taking 24 executive actions to try to reduce gun violence, such as improving the tracking of guns.
"We've probably saved a few lives, but I will tell you, this is the only advanced country that tolerates something like this," he said.