President Obama returned to the fundraising trail Wednesday night with an eye on winning a House majority next year, telling donors in California it would be a “whole lot easier to govern” if Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress.
At fundraisers for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in San Francisco, Obama stressed the importance of returning the speakership to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), calling her a "fearless leader" who is “tough as nails.”
Obama said he has been sincere in his recent outreach to “well-meaning” Republicans and saw the potential for cooperation on a slew of issues ranging from the debt to immigration reform to gun control.
But the president said his second-term ambitions can’t be fully realized unless Pelosi wins back the Speaker’s gavel in the 2014 mid-term elections and is again “a fully empowered partner" in Washington.
“I would love nothing better than an effective, loyal opposition that is willing to meet us halfway to move the country forward," he said of Republicans at the home of Ann and Gordon Getty, where the second fundraiser was held.
"But I would be dishonest if I didn’t say that it would be a whole lot easier to govern if I had Nancy Pelosi as Speaker."
Earlier, Obama said: "I expect that she is going to be once again the Speaker of the House."
That's a line Obama used frequently during campaign fundraisers, but one with more resonancy now as Democrats seek the 17 seats they'd need to retake a majority.
Winning that many seats would be a tough climb, particularly in a mid-term election year. Mid-terms generally see a second term president's party lose seats, though President Clinton bucked that trend in 1998.
If Republicans do control the House after 2014, Obama may fear his days as a lame-duck president will start early. Republicans also hope to take over the Senate, though they would have to win six seats to do so.
Obama has made no secret of his desire to win back the House next year, which would go a long way toward helping him buttress his legacy. Much of Obama’s agenda is stuck with Republicans in control of the lower chamber.
“We just want to get stuff done,” he said at the Getty home.
The White House is pushing gun control legislation and immigration overhaul, and Obama is also holding conversations with Republicans about a deficit-reduction package. The debt ceiling will need to be hiked later this summer, an event that could serve as a vehicle for wider legislation on taxes and entitlements.
Obama and congressional Republicans remain far apart on guns, entitlements, taxes and other issues, though immigration has emerged as an area where both sides have incentives to get something done.
Obama said he was hopeful about the chances of passing immigration reform in the coming months — even as he needled Republicans for not embracing the Hispanic community during the 2012 election.
“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,” he said in his first fundraiser.
Wednesday's events marked Obama’s first return to the circuit since Oct. 11, and they followed a successful campaign that raised $1.1 billion for his reelection.
Both of Wednesday’s fundraisers were in San Francisco’s ritzy Pacific Heights neighborhood. Tickets cost between $5,000 and $32,400.
On Thursday, Obama will hold two more events to benefit the Democratic National Committee. Thirty people will pay $32,400 a piece to have brunch with the president, and tickets for a lunch late in the afternoon range between $1,000 and $20,000.
It’s unclear how much Obama will raise with the four events, though one Democratic official said Wednesday’s dinner — an annual gathering for Pelosi — raised $1.7 million alone in 2012.
Both Pelosi and Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, attended Wednesday's events.
Israel described House Republicans to donors as full of "obstruction, chaos, inflexibility and intolerance,” according to a pool report. He said the DCCC is looking to recruit “solutionists” for 2014, an election he predicted would be “a referendum on the House Republicans' extremism, obstruction and chaos."
Pelosi took her own shots at the GOP, telling donors at the Getty residence Obama had reached out to Republicans with “endless courtesy” that had not been reciprocated.
“He just has a group of people there who do not share that commitment to civility,” Pelosi said. “If we can just change the minds of the Republicans as the Hispanics [sic] seemed to do on the immigration bill, that would be a good thing, too.”
The president promised to do eight fundraisers for House Democrats when he attended their retreat in February, and he spoke about fundraising for them on election night with Israel, the head of the House Democrats campaign arm, and Pelosi.
Obama told the pair, “I’m in in 2014.”
“We couldn’t ask for anything more,” Israel said at the time, before quickly adding: “But we will.”
During Obama's first fundraiser on Wednesday, he mentioned other priorities, including college affordability and climate change.
“The thing that I’m going to have to try to work to persuade the American people a little more convincingly on is this notion that there’s a contradiction between our economy and our environment is just a false choice,” Obama said.
Steyer, a hedge fund billionaire, is pledging to spend as much of his fortune as necessary to make climate change “the defining issue of our generation.”
Obama was confronted with concerns about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline later at the Getty home, where about 100 protesters carried signs objecting to the proposed Canada-to-Texas oil sands project.
Inside, Obama avoided direct mention of the pipeline — now under review at the State Department — but touted his efforts to reduce carbon emissions and to promote clean energy.
The fundraisers have drawn fire from Republicans, who have suggested Obama is more focused on next year’s election than governing.
On Wednesday, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus blasted the fundraisers as “hypocrisy at its finest,” noting that the president had campaigned on raising taxes on the wealthy donors likely to attend the events.
“On the campaign trail Obama’s favorite applause line was attacking the very people he’s now begging for campaign cash,” Priebus said. “Hypocrisy at its finest. Barack Obama has his priorities completely backward — prioritizing billionaires over the taxpayers who demand and deserve a budget and canceling White House tours while he spends $180,000 an hour flying Air Force One to fundraise on Billionaires Row.”
- Sheldon Alberts contributed
-- This post was originally published at 3:16 p.m. and last updated at 8:52 a.m.