By Amie Parnes - 01/04/12 06:59 PM EST
SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — If President Obama wanted to send a message on his first domestic trip of the year, he may have achieved it.
An aggressive Obama went on the attack Wednesday a day after GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney won the Iowa caucuses by appointing Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The decision, which infuriated Republicans, represented Obama’s first political move of his reelection year, and gets 2012 off on a point of conflict with Republicans.
In a speech set at a high school in a working-class Cleveland, Ohio, suburb, Obama made it known in no uncertain terms that he is willing to fight with Congress this year and will not wait for it when it stalls.
"When Congress refuses to act and as a result hurts our economy and puts people at risk, I have an obligation as president to do what I can without them," Obama said in the high-school gymnasium, standing in front of Cordray and near a large White House "We Can't Wait" sign.
"I will not stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people they were elected to serve," the president continued. "Not when so much is at stake. Not at this make-or-break moment for the middle class."
"I refuse to take no for an answer," Obama said, to applause from the crowd of 1,274, which included Ohio Democratic Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur.
Right away, Obama launched into an attack on Senate Republicans, saying they blocked Cordray's confirmation for almost a year and a half and that it “makes no sense at all.”
He said that since he nominated Cordray, the White House has been "pretty patient." Mentioning Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) by name, Obama said the White House kept asking "why is this being held up? Let's go."
"They refused to even give Richard an up-or-down vote," Obama said. "And it's not because he's unqualified."
The president said Republicans in the Senate have blocked Cordray because they don't agree with the law setting up the consumer watchdog he was nominated to head.
"They want to weaken it," he said. "We shouldn't be weakening oversight and accountability. We should be strengthening it."
Republicans accused Obama of engaging in a power grab.
McConnell said Obama "arrogantly circumvented the American people" and that the decision "fundamentally endangers" Congress's ability to check the "excesses of the executive branch."
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the effort an "extraordinary and entirely unprecedented power grab ... [that] would have a devastating effect on the checks and balances that are enshrined in our Constitution."
Obama opened his address by citing his end-of-2011 victory over Republicans on the payroll tax cut fight. The tax cut was extended for two months, setting up another deadline in February to extend it for a full year.
Obama acknowledged the fight “wasn't easy."
"And it should have been," he said.
In the address, he urged Congress once again to take up the payroll tax cut extension this year with "No drama, no delay."
The president's address aimed to strike a chord with a working-class town hit hard by the down economy and wary of politician's promises.
Obama tried to acknowledge those fears in the 30-minute speech.
"Cleveland, I know you're hearing a lot of promises from a lot of politicians lately," he said. "But today, you're only going to hear one from me. As long as I have the privilege of serving as your president, I promise to do everything I can, every day, to make this country a place where hard work and responsibility mean something."
Even as Obama enters his reelection year, White House aides insisted on Tuesday that the trip to the battleground state was not a campaign stop, but an opportunity for Obama — who had been to Shaker Heights in 2009 — to tout his economic message for the coming months.
On the heels of its win in Iowa, the Romney campaign was quick to blame the president for failing to keep his word, even before Obama left Washington for the Cleveland suburb on Wednesday morning.
“When President Obama visited Shaker Heights in 2009, he promised he would control spending, create jobs, and end the politics of finger-pointing and blame," said Andrea Saul, a Romney campaign spokeswoman. "On all fronts, the president has failed to keep his word. With our national debt surging past $15 trillion, millions of Americans still seeking work, and a broken, polarized system in Washington, it’s clear that America can’t afford four more years of false promises.”
In Ohio on Wednesday, after announcing Cordray's appointment, Obama sent a message to those in the audience, and a warning to his opponents.
"2012 is going to be a good year," he said.