President Obama is tying his legacy to a growing economy, seizing on the administration’s successes in boosting the nation during financial woes.
Bolstered by a string of positive economic reports, the administration hopes it can increase Democrats’ chances of holding the Senate this fall by highlighting Obama’s stewardship of the economy.
“It’s the best possible legacy item,” said one former senior administration official. “The elections in 2008 and 2012 were all about the economy and if the nation could bounce back after such terrible times. And look, it shows that, not only did we bounce back, but things are going to an even better place, one where a potential predecessor could build a foundation.”
On Wednesday, the Commerce Department said the economy grew at a 4 percent annual rate in the second quarter. The report also included revised figures for 2013 that showed much stronger growth at the end of last year.
In the final three months of 2013, the economy expanded at a 3.5 percent rate, up from the previous estimate of 2.6 percent. And in the third quarter, growth was revised to 4.5 percent from 4.1 percent.
Hours after the report was released, Obama adopted a confident and fiery tone while making remarks on the economy.
For much of his speech in Kansas City, Mo., he ticked off the nation’s economic successes. Since he took over at the helm, millions of new jobs have been added, he said.
“Manufacturing is back,” he said. And “our energy, our technology, our auto industries, they’re all booming.”
Time and again, he recalled where the nation stood at the height of the financial crisis when he entered the Oval Office at the beginning of 2009.
“The crisis that hit near the end of my campaign back in 2008, it would end up costing millions of Americans their jobs, their homes, their sense of security,” Obama told the packed crowd at a theater in the Show Me State. “But we have fought back. We have got back on our feet. We have dusted ourselves off.”
The economy has added more than 200,000 jobs per month for the past five months ahead of the release of a new jobs report on Friday, helping to lower the unemployment rate to 6.1 percent. Economists expect that Friday’s report will also be over 200,000 jobs.
“None of this is an accident,” Obama said on Wednesday. “It’s thanks to the decisions we made early on. And now America has recovered faster and come farther than just about any other advanced country on earth.”
Republicans argue the country is experiencing the slowest economic recovery since a recession on record, and they say Obama’s White House is to blame.
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), chairman of Congress’s Joint Economic Committee, doubled over with laughter when asked about the president’s legacy on the economy.
“Seriously?!” he said.
The GOP has pointed to ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul, arguing regulations from those laws have led to economic uncertainties that have slowed the growth of business.
Republicans regularly hammer the Senate for not taking up jobs bills passed by the lower chamber.
Brady acknowledged that the president was handed a very rough situation when he took power, but said Obama has had more than enough time to put together a recovery that should be far more robust at this point.
“The truth is, the weakest economic recovery in President Obama’s lifetime is his own,” he said. “We’re wildly applauding a C-minus economic performance.”
But White House aides say Obama will tout the economy as a legacy item in the coming months.
“The president will continue to spend time traveling across the country talking to the American people about his domestic priority: expanding economic opportunity for the middle class,” one White House official said on Wednesday.
“We’ve made important progress over the last several years,” the official continued, before adding, “but the president believes there is more we can do.”
Those close to the White House say Obama’s success on the economy could help Hillary Clinton should she run in the 2016 election. And Clinton allies agree.
“I think she will highlight the successful economic initiatives the president has put in place,” one source close to Clintonworld said. “But if she runs, she will run on her own record and will tout her own policy proposals to keep our economy on track and moving forward.”
In his speech on Wednesday, a flip Obama had some fun with House Republicans, alluding to the fact that there could be a Democratic president in office after he leaves in 2017.
“I know they’re not that happy that I’m president, but that’s OK,” he said. “Come on, I’ve only got a couple of years left. Come on, let’s get some work done. Then you can be mad at the next president.”