President Obama says he wants to work with Republicans, but he raised millions of dollars in California on a two-day trip that ended Thursday to ensure that Rep. Nancy Pelosi becomes speaker again in 2014.
At a pair of big-money fundraisers at the homes of two billionaires in San Francisco, Mr. Obama called Mrs. Pelosi a "fearless leader" whose return to power would make it easier for him to achieve priorities such as climate-change legislation and clean-energy programs.
"I am looking to find areas of common ground with Republicans every single day," Mr. Obama said. "But having said all that, I know Nancy Pelosi. I've seen her courage. I know that she is willing to do the right thing, even when it's not politically popular. And I want her once again as a fully empowered partner for us to be able to move our agenda forward."
The president hadn't raised money for House Democrats in person in more than two years. Last year, he devoted all of his fundraising energies to his own re-election, frustrating incumbent lawmakers of his party.
Mr. Obama's message this week on behalf of Mrs. Pelosi was noticeably different than his last personal pitch for House Democrats in March 2011. Back then, the president praised Mrs. Pelosi for helping him to pass his health care law, his economic stimulus plan and the auto bailout during the first two years of his administration, before Republicans won the House in 2010 and deposed her as speaker. This week, Mr. Obama focused instead on Mrs. Pelosi's potential to help him deliver his environmental agenda over the final two years of his presidency if Democrats win back the House.
"I think the most important thing is that when you don't have another race to run, all you're really thinking about is how do I leave a legacy, not simply for the next president but for the next generation that makes America stronger," Mr. Obama said Thursday.
Speaking of his plans to rebuild the economy for the middle class, the president said, "We can do all this without spending massive amounts of money. We still waste money in all kinds of things that don't work, and we have the capacity to shift those dollars into things that do work and that will grow our economy."
Mr. Obama attended fundraisers at the home of Tom Steyer, a wealthy environmental activist, and at the nearby residence of Ann and Gordon Getty. The events, at which tickets cost as much as $32,400 per person, raised $3.25 million for the House Democrats' campaign committee.
The president called Mrs. Pelosi "thoughtful ... visionary ... tough as nails."
"She never lets ideology cloud her judgment," Mr. Obama said. "It'd be a whole lot easier to govern if I had Nancy Pelosi as speaker."
Mrs. Pelosi praised the president as "courageous" on gun control and said he has extended "endless courtesy" to Republicans who haven't reciprocated. She said Republican lawmakers "do not share that commitment to civility."
The president also took a swipe at Republicans' sincerity in working on bipartisan immigration reform legislation, suggesting that overwhelming support among Hispanics for Democratic candidates last year influenced the GOP.
"It's interesting how clarifying to the mind Democrats getting 70 percent of the Latino vote was in suggesting that maybe we needed to finally fix a broken immigration system, and making sure that we're both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants," Mr. Obama said.
Throughout his trip, Mr. Obama was greeted by protesters opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline that is awaiting a decision by his administration. Near a fundraiser in Atherton, Calif., hosted by a board member of the Environmental Defense Fund, protesters held signs proclaiming "Keep Carbon in the Ground" and "Reject Keystone."
The president told supporters that he faces a challenge convincing the middle class that his green agenda won't harm their economic interests.
"The politics of this are tough," he said. "Because if you haven't seen a raise in a decade ... you may be concerned about the temperature of the planet, but it's probably not rising to your No. 1 concern."
He added, "So part of what we're going to have to do is to marry a genuine, passionate concern about middle-class families and everybody who is trying to get into the middle class to show them that we're working just as hard for them as we are for our environmental agenda, and that we can bridge these things in a way that advances the causes of both. And that's going to take some work."
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