White House press secretary Jay Carney on Thursday defended President Obama's fundraising swing through California, saying that despite "rhetoric from the other side" critical of the president, his push on behalf of Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) was "a traditional exercise."
The White House press secretary added that Obama was "optimistic about a process in which voters across the country decide which candidates support their priorities and support an agenda that has the middle class as its focus."
"And that’s certainly what the president has been putting forward and what former Speaker Pelosi, Leader Pelosi supports," he continued.
Carney also brushed back suggestions that Obama's comments that he wanted to return the speaker's gavel to Pelosi meant he would be unwilling to work with Republicans in the coming year.
"The president will continue to work with and expect and hope to work with Republicans in Congress to achieve bipartisan compromise on a whole host of important issues," Carney said. "And he certainly expects and believes that Republicans who are engaged in the effort to get Republicans elected will also continue to work with Democrats and with the president to try to achieve bipartisan compromise."
At fundraisers for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in San Francisco, Obama stressed the importance of returning the speakership to Pelosi, 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.
“My intention here is to try to get as much done with the Republican Party over the next two years as I can, because we can’t have perpetual campaigns,” Obama said.
But Obama 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 be dishonest if I didn’t say that it would be a whole lot easier to govern if I had Nancy Pelosi as speaker," Obama said.
Asked Thursday if Obama actually expected Democrats to retake the House — a tall order in an off-year election — Carney sidestepped.
"I think the president is hopeful that candidates who support a common-sense agenda, a middle-of-the-road agenda focused on strengthening the middle class and investing in our children and in innovation will win the support of their constituents," Carney said. "I’m not sure, beyond what the president himself said, as you noted, that he or I is going to engage in more specific predictions about midterm elections. They’re a long way off."
He added that he did not see an inherent contradiction in rallying for Democrats to retake the House in the midst of a "charm offensive" to win over Republican support for the president's legislative agenda.
"Look, both are true," Carney said. "The president obviously supports those candidates and those incumbents who are pressing for the same priorities that he is pressing for. It is also true that he believes we have an opportunity, particularly at this time, to get some big things done on behalf of the American people — things that will only happen if we get bipartisan agreement."
-Amie Parnes contributed.