President explains his new grassroots operation, discusses Congressional gridlock and 'gobbledygook,' urges supporters to ensure his legacy...
Washington, DC - President Obama
spoke at the first Organizing for Action (OFA) dinner on Wednesday evening, the capper to a two-day "founders' summit" being held at the tony St. Regis hotel, located blocks from the White House. He addressed about 75 top-tier donors and activists gathered at Adour restaurant, explaining what he hopes to accomplish with the organization, an offshoot of his well-oiled reelection machine: "We're going to have a lot of work to do," he said. (Above: The President at the dinner with former campaign manager Jim Messina, now OFA's national chair)
of you represent, like it or not, a bunch of true believers who got
involved and are still here after all the ups and downs of the
campaign," President Obama told his guests, who'd paid $50,000 each to attend the summit.
Google chairman Eric Schmidt was among the guests, though OFA has said it is not taking corporate donations. Since he's spent the last two weeks reaching out to rank and file members of Congress, and today had what was reportedly an unproductive meeting with House Republicans, OFA is an effort to ensure that the President's agenda isn't derailed. He urged supporters to continue to be activists, to cement his presidential legacy, mentioning gun control, climate change, the strengthening economy.
"The good news is that America in 2013 is poised, as it always has been,
to succeed in ways that will make us the envy of the world if we make
good policy decisions," President Obama said, adding that he has one goal:
"I actually just want to govern--at least for a couple of years."
The true believers can help him by ensuring that the 20 million people who participated in the reelection campaign remain engaged, the President said, though he joked that the four million donors who gave $5, $10 and $25 donations may have had motives other than getting him elected.
"Now, a sizable portion of those just wanted dinner with George Clooney," President Obama said, to laughter.
OFA has been criticized as being a way for interested parties to pay a lot of money for access to President Obama, or as a thinly-veiled effort to ensure that Democrats win in the 2014 midterm elections. The President admitted that Washington observers are both "puzzled" and "suspicious" about why the organization was created, so he explained:
"What we want is to make sure that the voices of the people who put me here continue to be heard -- that they're not just heard during election time, that they're not just heard in terms of dollar solicitations, that we are helping to build or sustain a network of citizens who have a voice in the most critical debates that are going to be taking place over the next year, year and a half, and if it works, potentially beyond."
The President also admitted that in the past, he's frittered away some of his political support.
"What we don’t want to do is repeat the mistake I believe we did in 2008 where some of that energy just kind of dissipated and we were only playing an inside game, and I was sitting in a room with a bunch of folks negotiating all the time," he said.
"Gobbledygook" and Congressional relations...
While wooing the Congressional rank and file, President Obama this week made constant headlines with multiple visits to Capitol Hill. Last week he treated a dozen Republican Senators to dinner and hosted a White House luncheon. He defended his outreach.
"Over the last several weeks, the press here in Washington has been
reporting about Obama’s charm offensive," President Obama said.
"Well, the truth of the matter
is all I’ve been doing is just calling up folks and trying to see if we
can break through some of the gobbledygook of our politics here."
"Ironically, I actually think some of the leadership want their
membership to create a permission structure," he said.
"They don’t like getting
too far ahead of their leadership, so we’re reaching out to these
individual members so that they create a space where things can get
The President closed his remarks with a joke about asking for more money, one he frequently used on the campaign trail during his final run.
"I used to say that being friends with a politician is like perpetually
having a kid in college, because you’re writing checks all the time and
it doesn't seem like the kid ever graduates."
"Well, I’ve graduated," he said to laughter. "I’ve run my last campaign. But we’re not done with the
work that led me to run in the first place."
The President gave few specifics about what Organizing for Action will do in the years ahead, but he may have given more details during the Q&A that followed his remarks. These were not included in the transcript of his remarks, and the pool was ushered out before the Q&A began.
OFA Executive Director Jon Carson, a former White House official, introduced the President before he spoke. The President arrived at 6:46 PM, and the motorcade left the St. Regis at 8:42 PM. The President was home at the White House at 8:46 PM.
Other speakers at the summit were David Plouffe, former White House senior adviser, and manager of the 2008 campaign; Dan Wagner, the campaign’s chief analytics officer; former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, Sara El-Amine, OFA’s national organizing director; and Lindsay Siler, OFA’s issues director.
*The transcript of the President's remarks.
*Photos by Getty/Pool