Obama downplays Democratic divisions ahead of Iowa caucuses

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BALTIMORE — President Obama is touting Democratic unity just days ahead of a tight caucus contest in Iowa between presidential rivals Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump: Sanders supporters 'like Trump on trade, a lot' Clinton ties Trump's refusal to release tax returns to Russia in ad Clinton's lead narrows to 3 points in Pennsylvania MORE and Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump: Sanders supporters 'like Trump on trade, a lot' Sunday shows preview: Both sides gear up for debate UK's Corbyn calls for unity after reelection as Labour Party head MORE.

Addressing House Democrats gathered in this snow-filled city for their annual issues conference, the president downplayed any divisions within the party and predicted that their ideals will win the White House in November because the party is on the right side of history.

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"Democrats focus on the things that matter in the lives of the American people," Obama said. "And on the other side, other than some slogans, you do not hear a single policy that they're putting forward that you can say would help middle class … or working-class families.

"That's what this election's about."

Obama played up the economic policies he said pulled the country from the Great Recession, while hammering Republican critics who warned that they would come at the expense of jobs and consumer confidence.

Those policies “rescued the economy from the worst crisis in generations. We have now seen the longest streak of private-sector job creation in our history, more than 14 million new jobs … more than 18 million Americans newly covered by health insurance," Obama said.

"At each juncture, every single one of the steps we took, they [Republicans] said the opposite, wanted to go in a different direction, claimed our policies would crush jobs and destroy the economy," he added.  "They said the deficits would explode; we cut them by almost three-quarters. My opponent in the last election [Mitt Romney] promised 6 percent unemployment by the end of 2016; we got it to 5 percent by the end of 2015."

Obama's speech, marking the last time he'll address the Democrats at their yearly retreat, touched on sweeping themes that spanned a spectrum of domestic and foreign policy matters. He touted his promotion of worker protections and renewable fuels; he highlighted the administration's work fighting Ebola in Africa; and he trumpeted the Iran nuclear deal as a triumph of diplomacy that will make the world a safer place.

"We now know —have certified — that massive amounts of existing nuclear stockpiles and their infrastructure has been dismantled or shipped out," the president said. "And even those who were skeptical are now having to admit that, without firing a shot, we achieved something that all of us had an interest in, and have been working on for years."

But it was the distinction between Democrats and Republicans that Obama returned to over and again.

The president lamented the message from the GOP primary race that the country is in decline — "I don't see it," he said — and he urged the Democrats in the room to continue the fight for the policies he's advanced, even after he's gone.

"Our policies," he said, "are the ones that work."