Sweet: Obama won’t be ‘back-seat driver’ in Springfield

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WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has been talking for some time about returning to Springfield on the anniversary of his official kickoff for the presidency at the Old State Capitol, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday.

But Obama’s Springfield homecoming on Wednesday, nine years to the day of his announcement, is not designed to break the budget deadlock between GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrats who lead their supermajorities, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, Earnest told reporters from Illinois outlets in a briefing call.

“The president views this as an opportunity to not offer advice or be a back-seat driver for running the state government of Illinois but rather an opportunity to deliver a broader message about the value and potential benefit associated with trying to find common ground,” Earnest said.

Obama is leaving one city mired in gridlock and polarized politics to spend a few hours in another with the same problems, albeit one with which he has great sentimental attachment.

Springfield is where Obama started his political career in the state Senate, launched his White House bid and publicly tapped Joe Biden to be his running mate.

On Wednesday, Obama will deliver an address to a joint session of the Illinois General Assembly.

Springfield is a nasty place these days. Springfield, with power centralized between three strong men, almost makes deal-making in Congress look easy.


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“Why is this a good idea for the White House?” I asked Earnest.

“It’s a good idea because the president’s experience when he served in Springfield was different than the situation the president encountered in Washington. And the president does see this as a good backdrop to talk about the kinds of benefits that can be realized when our citizens and our elected representatives don’t allow themselves to be so easily divided.”

Obama’s visit should be viewed as a continuation of themes he talked about in his last State of the Union address, Earnest counseled.

One passage in particular is apt.

“It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better, Obama told Congress. I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.”

“In the context of an address to the Illinois General Assembly, he can revisit those issues, primarily because he thinks it’s important in the long term,” Earnest said.

Perhaps the president will touch on campaign finance reform and redistricting, solutions to problems mentioned in the State of the Union address that contribute to rancor.

In north suburban Wheeling on Monday, Rauner told reporters he hoped Obama would talk about “how important it is, how valuable it is, to have bipartisan compromise to get things done.”

Rauner singled out his two big issues – term limits and redistricting — in focusing on what he wants Obama to talk about, suggesting incorrectly that Obama backs Rauner’s term-limit crusade.

Rauner is not going to get that one-on-one beer he sought with Obama. He will be greeting him on the tarmac of the airport in Springfield. Rauner surely knows that Obama would not endorse the cuts he has made in a variety of state services affecting low-income students, day care, and the disabled.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., one of the first people to encourage Obama to run for president and who introduced his then-fellow senator on that freezing day in Springfield in 2007, will be flying from Washington to Springfield with Obama on Air Force One.

Obama has made a decision in this last year in office, Durbin said, “to say what is on his mind and hope it has a positive impact either immediately or viewed favorably in the long run. He has faced more than his fair share of frustration with a Republican Congress.”

FOOTNOTE: After the speech, Obama will go a few blocks from the Capitol to visit with and thank a crowd of “supporters, stakeholders, and volunteers” who helped him at the start of his career. The event will be at the Hoogland Center for the Arts.

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