By Sam Youngman - 09/23/11 12:14 AM EDT
President Obama used a crumbling bridge connecting northern Kentucky to Ohio to make one of his most personal attacks yet on Republican leaders.
Obama’s visit on Thursday to the Brent Spence bridge was to sell his $447 billion jobs bill, but it served further notice that the president is fully engaged in campaign politics and has painted a bull’s-eye on House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
“Just a coincidence,” the president mockingly said. “Purely accidental that that happened.
“The reason I came here is because Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell are the two most powerful Republicans in government,” the president continued. “They can either kill this jobs bill, or they can help us pass it.”
Obama later appeared to mock the two GOP leaders by echoing the rhetoric of President Reagan’s “tear down this wall” demand to Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev.
“Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell, help us rebuild this bridge,” Obama, said, adding, “Help us rebuild America. Help us put this country back to work. Pass this jobs bill right away.”
Obama has used a partisan tone since Congress returned from the August recess, and it has won him plaudits from Democrats who had been eager to see the president fight.
Obama’s reelection battle in 2012 looks tough, with the president’s approval ratings dropping and confidence in his handling of the economy hitting new lows.
More bad economic news accompanied the president’s Thursday trip as stock markets plunged. The Dow Jones closed 391 points down, or 3.5 percent.
Neither the bad news nor GOP complaints about Obama’s overtly political photo-op deterred the president from attacking McConnell and Boehner.
“I know these men care about their states,” Obama said. “And I can’t imagine that the Speaker wants to represent a state where nearly one in four bridges is classified as substandard. I know that when Sen. McConnell visited the closed bridge in Kentucky, he said that ‘roads and bridges are not partisan in Washington.’ “
Republicans pointed out that money to fix the Brent Spence bridge, described as “functionally obsolete,” is not even included in the president’s jobs bill, and McConnell took to the Senate floor to decry Obama’s excursion to his Kentucky backyard.
“If you’re truly interested in helping our state — if you really want to help our state — then come back to Washington and work with Republicans on legislation that will actually do something to revive our economy and create jobs,” McConnell said. “And forget the political theater.”
While Obama attacked McConnell, the minority leader’s fellow home-state Republican senator, Tea Party favorite Rand Paul, accompanied the president on Air Force One.
A White House pool report said Obama and Paul, one of the president’s most vociferous critics, discussed ways of improving the nation’s infrastructure.
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), who earlier this month criticized McConnell for not doing more for the bridge, also made the trip. Yarmuth and McConnell held a joint press conference over the weekend to highlight the need to rebuild the bridge.
The president’s attack on Boehner comes as the relationship between the two men has deteriorated rapidly.
After playing golf together in June, the president and the Speaker worked together to try to forge a grand bargain over the debt ceiling in July.
When the deal went south, Obama reportedly tried, unsuccessfully, to get Boehner on the phone.
Obama later said Boehner left him “at the altar a couple times.”
Since returning from the August recess, White House officials have explained the shift in their tone by saying the president was forced to negotiate over the debt ceiling to prevent the economy from being put at further risk.
Officials have said in recent weeks that kind of negotiation is over.
“We were in a position of legislative compromise by necessity,” White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said recently. “That phase is behind us.”
Obama underlined that point with his own remarks. He chastised McConnell for caring more about defeating him than the economy.
“A while back, Sen. McConnell said that his top priority for the next two years is to defeat the president,” Obama said. “Not jobs. Not the economy. Just politics — from now until the election.
“Well, I’ve got news for him, and every other member of Congress who feels that way: The next election is 14 months away. And the American people don’t have the luxury of waiting that long. A lot of folks are living week to week; paycheck to paycheck; even day to day. They need action, and they need it now.”
This story was originally posted at 2:46 p.m. and updated at 8:14 p.m.