President Obama got a rousing homecoming welcome on Wednesday night in Chicago as he attended two campaign fundraisers on the eve of his 50th birthday. It was the first time he has been back in his hometown in months, and the first time he's been away from the White House since June 3oth, thanks to the protracted debt deal drama. The President was greeted with wild enthusiasm by a crowd of more than 2,400 supporters baking inside the under-air conditioned Aragon Entertainment Center in Uptown, many wearing birthday party hats adorned with the campaign logo and the number 50. Musical entertainment was provided by Windy City natives Jennifer Hudson, Herbie Hancock and OK GO, who stood to the side as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced his former boss. (Above: The President with Hudson and Emanuel)
Before he spoke to the crowd in the ballroom, the President spoke via video teleconference to supporters attending more than 1,000 Obama for America Birthday House Parties being simultaneously held across the US. The First Lady did not accompany the President to Chicago, nor did his daughters, but the President was overheard saying that Malia will return to the White House tomorrow from camp, for his private White House birthday celebration.
Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Chief of Staff Bill Daley and Press Secretary Jay Carney all accompanied the President to Chicago (but Daley spent the evening at a Sox game with his brother). Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Jan Murkowski (D-IL) were also on hand at the Aragon.
As he introduced the President, Emanuel gave a rousing defense of the Administration's record, pointing in particular to the bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler. (Above: Hudson serenades the president as Emanuel and members of OK GO look on)
"I can tell you that when it comes to doing what's right for the country, he never takes the easy road. If he thinks it's right, he'll pay any political price to do it -- I can tell you that because I first came to tell him to take the easy road," Emanuel said, to laughter.
"He was willing to put all the political capital to put this country first," Emanuel said. "He was willing to do what was right for our kids and our future."
Hudson led the crowd in singing "Happy Birthday" to President Obama as he strode onto the stage. The President shook hands all around and then turned to the crowd and praised Emanuel, who was inaugurated as Mayor in May.
"It looks to me like Rahm is doing a pretty good job," he said. "And as far as I can tell, he hasn’t cursed in public yet." (Above: The President during his remarks)
The crowd cheered and applauded.
"I could not have a better early birthday present than spending tonight with all of you," President Obama said. "And it’s true that I turn 50 tomorrow--which means that by the time I wake up, I’ll have an email from AARP-- asking me to call President Obama and tell him to protect Medicare."
Read the President's full remarks here. A video of Hudson's serenade and the President's remarks:
Donors' Dinner: After he wowed the larger group of supporters, President Obama went upstairs to greet about 100 donors who had paid the top ticket price of $35,800 for the event, which included dinner. Standing in front of two US flags with his jacket off, the President started off with a joke at the expense of Emanuel, saying: "I still have the pothole in front of my house.""Obviously we've just gone through an extraordinary week in Washington, an extraordinary two weeks in Washington," President Obama said. "It's not the kind of extraordinary the American people are looking for."
The President covered much of the same ground he had in his first set of remarks, and defended the debt package, saying it was "responsible" in paying down debt but "not going to dismantle our social safety net." (Above: Supporters wearing party hats)
He added: "I give the other side credit. They are single-minded in their focus in wanting to cut programs and shrink government."
Details on ticket prices for the events are here. The President returned to Washington on Wednesday night after his fundraisers. (Above: The President greets the crowd)
*AP photos; NBC Chicago video