DETROIT (AP) — President Obama said Monday that congressional Republicans must put their country ahead of their party and vote to create new jobs as he used a boisterous Labor Day rally to aim a partisan barb at the GOP.
In a preview of the jobs speech he will deliver on Thursday to a joint session of Congress, Mr. Obama said there are numerous roads and bridges that need rebuilding in the U.S. — and over a million unemployed construction workers who are available to build them.
He said that, with widespread suffering, "the time for Washington games is over" and lawmakers must move quickly to create jobs.
"But we're not going wait for them," he said at an annual event sponsored by the Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO. "We're going to see if we've got some straight shooters in Congress. We're going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party.
"Show us what you've got," Mr. Obama said.
Throughout the speech, the union crowd kept chanting, "Four more years."
Mr. Obama's remarks came as he is under heavy criticism from Republicans for presiding over a persistently weak economy and high unemployment. Last Friday's dismal jobs report showed that employers added no jobs in August, the first time since 1945 that the government reported a net job change of zero. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, held steady at 9.1 percent.
The disappointing report sparked new fears of a second recession and injected fresh urgency into efforts by Mr. Obama to help get millions of unemployed people back into the labor market — and help improve his re-election chances.
Polls show the economy and jobs are the public's top concerns. Public approval of Mr. Obama's handling of the economy hit a new low of 26 percent in a recent Gallup survey.
The unemployment report also gave Mr. Obama's Republican critics, including those who want to challenge him in next year's presidential election, fresh ammunition to pound him with.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, one of the GOP presidential hopefuls, called the report disappointing, unacceptable and "further proof that President Obama has failed." Mr. Romney is scheduled to outline his own job-creation plan in a speech Tuesday in the battleground state of Nevada.
In the speech to Congress, Mr. Obama is expected to call for a mix of individual and business tax credits and public-works spending. He also will press lawmakers for swift action on those proposals.
The day after his address to Congress, Mr. Obama plans to visit Richmond — part of which is represented by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican who is one of the president's fiercest critics. Mr. Obama plans to spend a "decent amount of time" traveling the country to encourage support for his job-creation plan, deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
"These are bipartisan ideas that ought to be the kind of proposals that everybody can get behind, no matter what your political affiliation might be," Mr. Obama said last week. "So my hope and expectation is that we can put country before party and get something done for the American people."
Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis said Monday that both political parties should get behind Mr. Obama's efforts to improve the hiring picture.
"We do need everyone to be on board," she said on NBC's "Today" show.
Mrs. Solis said Mr. Obama "is very mindful of what the needs and concerns are of those individuals who have been out of work for so long." But she also said the jobless have a responsibility to seek training in new skills, if necessary, to better prepare themselves for the kinds of jobs available in today's economy.
Mr. Obama spent part of the holiday weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland "putting the finishing touches" on the proposals and the speech, said spokesman Jay Carney.
"That process continues over the next few days, but he's very far along," Mr. Carney said.
In Detroit on Monday, Mr. Obama was also expected to tout his efforts to save the auto industry and millions of jobs by providing federal bailouts in 2009 for General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Group LLC. The AFL-CIO rally was being held in a GM parking lot.
Mr. Obama won Michigan in the 2008 presidential election, and the economically challenged state is crucial to his re-election prospects. The state unemployment rate was 10.9 percent in July, above the national average for that month. The Detroit-area jobless rate was even higher, at 14.1 percent in July.