The White House deployed first lady Michelle Obama Wednesday in the president’s campaign to promote his jobs bill, as the administration pressured Republican senators to approve incentives for businesses to hire more veterans.
Mrs. Obama delivered a straightforward appeal at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va., for private companies to boost the hiring of veterans and their spouses, promoting a public-private partnership that has attracted firms such as Sears and Tyson Foods.
“They do not want to miss out on your potential,” Mrs. Obama told the assembled 2,000 troops and family members. “They want America’s businesses to have the best, most talented, most hardworking employees around.”
Her husband followed with a partisan approach, saying he and Senate Democrats will force GOP lawmakers to vote on a part of his $447 billion plan that would grant small companies tax breaks for hiring post-9/11 veterans. The Senate cut off debate on the overall bill last week, with Republicans united against the plan and the tax hikes that would pay for it.
The president accused Republicans of hypocrisy.
“When I first proposed this idea in a joint session of Congress, people stood up and applauded on both sides of the aisle,” Mr. Obama said. “So when it comes for a vote in the Senate, I expect to get votes from both sides of the aisle. Don’t just applaud about it, vote for it.”
He added, “Standing up for our veterans is not a Democratic responsibility or a Republican responsibility. It is an American responsibility.”
As the president wrapped up his three-day bus tour of North Carolina and Virginia, two states he needs to win again in 2012, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, lambasted Mr. Obama for waging a “choreographed political sideshow.”
“It’s completely preposterous at a time when 14 million Americans are looking for a job in this country for the president to be riding around on a bus saying we should raise taxes — on the very folks who create jobs,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor. “The president’s out there doing his best Howard Dean impersonation. He’s completely out of touch. Let’s park the campaign bus, put away the talking points, and do something to address this jobs crisis.”
Presidential press secretary Jay Carney responded, “Presidents can and should get out of Washington on occasion to meet with ordinary Americans and hear from them about the challenges they face in this difficult economy.”
Mrs. Obama’s appearances with her husband on the road are sure to increase as the campaign heats up. She has already been hard at work raising money for his re-election fund and for other Democratic candidates — with at least nine fundraisers on her schedule since early September.
The first lady is a more popular asset, too — her favorability ratings in polls are at least 15 points higher than Mr. Obama‘s.
“I never get to do anything with my husband,” she told the crowd. “I haven’t seen him in three days. This is a nice date.”
To the president, she said, “You’re looking good.”
Mr. Obama praised his wife and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joseph R. Biden for promoting the public-private program called Joining Forces, which aims to hire 100,000 veterans and their family members by 2013.
He said of his wife, “She does all this and she looks cute.”
The military vote in states with numerous bases such as Virginia could be critical to Mr. Obama’s fortunes in 2012.