By Ed O'Keefe
President Obama predicted Thursday that if Democrats pursue an ambitious agenda, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will soon have the speaker’s gavel back.
“It won’t be smooth, it won’t be simple, there will be frustrations, there will be times when you guys will be mad at me, and I’ll occasionally read about it.” he said. But if they keep focused, he said, ”I would expect that Nancy Pelosi is going to be speaker again pretty soon.”
But the president also appeared to be steeling House Democrats — who are more liberal than their Senate counterparts — for the need to remain open to concessions to moderate Democrats and Republicans not as eager to engage on the two domestic issues likely to dominate his State of the Union address next week — immigration and gun-control.
Obama spoke at a midday session at the annual House Democratic policy retreat, held at the tony Lansdowne Resort outside Leesburg. He addressed the group from his presidential podium in a large ballroom as lawmakers sat at round tables in casual dress.
Joking that he “just made a pretty long speech a couple of weeks ago and I’m about to make another one next week and I don’t want you guys tired of me,” Obama appeared to be testing out broad themes that may find their way into next week’s State of the Union address.
On immigration, Obama said the issue is “a top priority and an early priority,” but that he understands “that in some places this may end up being a tough issue.”
“But what I also know is that part of our strength is our youth and our dynamism and our history of attracting talent from all over the world.”
He earned his biggest applause, however, when he turned to gun-control, an issue of special concern to House Democrats, who represent mostly urban and suburban areas affected by mass shootings and urban gang violence.
“Again there are regional differences here, and we should respect those,” he said. “Guns mean something different for somebody who grew up on a farm in a rural community and someone who grew up in the inner city. There are different realities that we have to respect, but what we know that the majority of gun owners recognize that we cannot have a situation in which 20 more of our children or 100 more of our children or 1,000 more of our children are shot and killed in a senseless fashion. And that there are some commonsense steps we can take in building consensus. We cannot shy away from taking those steps.”
Obama began his remarks by saying he was “humbled” by the election results and the opportunity to recalibrate his focus over the next four years.
“I’m prepared, eager and anxious to do a big deal, a big package that ends this governance by crisis, where every three weeks or every two months or every six months we are threatening this hard-won recovery,” Obama said. “I want to do something big to provide certainty and steadiness for the economy and for American families.”
Obama also took the opportunity to once again criticize Republicans for focusing too much on finding ways to cut government spending without supporting more revenue through eliminating tax loopholes that benefit wealthier Americans or large corporations.
“I have to tell you, if that’s an argument they want to have before the court of public opinion, that’s an argument I’m more than willing to engage in,” Obama said.
The president spoke the day after Vice President Biden addressed the group and focused most of his remarks on gun-control proposals. Former president Bill Clinton is scheduled to meet with the group behind closed doors on Friday morning.