President Barack Obama flew into Chicago Thursday to raise money for fellow Democrats, bash ‘ideologically rigid’ Republicans, gripe about Chicago weather — and joke about the toll of being president.
“All of you look the same, and I look like Morgan Freeman,” he told a group of donors at a Gold Coast fund-raiser.
“It’s good to be home now that it’s warmed up. It was a rough winter,” Obama said.
Obama spoke at a reception at the Gold Coast home of Invenergy LLC CEO Michael Polsky and his wife, Tanya. He later attended a dinner at the Lincoln Park residence of Fred Eychaner, the chairman of Newsweb Corp.
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At the first event, the president spoke of the integrity shown by Sen. Dick Durbin, who he said has fought for working families.
The president cautioned against blaming both parties for congressional gridlock.
“The problem is not Dick Durbin, the problem is not Michael Bennett,” he said, referring to the Colorado senator who was also in attendance.
“And there’s a tendency to say, a plague on both your houses. But the truth of the matter is that the problem in Congress is very specific.
“We have a group of folks in the Republican Party who have taken over who are so ideologically rigid, who are so committed to an economic theory that says if folks at the top do very well then everybody else is somehow going to do well; who deny the science of climate change; who don’t think making investments in early childhood education makes sense; who have repeatedly blocked raising a minimum wage so if you work full-time in this country you’re not living in poverty; who scoff at the notion that we might have a problem with women not getting paid for doing the same work that men are doing.”
Obama said the country still faces economic challenges, even with a recovery.
“That recovery has not translated into higher incomes, higher wages,” he said.
Commenting on everything from global warming to his support for Obamacare, the president called on Democratic voters to feel “a sense of urgency” in the midterm election. He urged attendees at the fund-raiser to help organize people in Chicago and across the country.
“I thank all of you for what you’ve done for me, but I need you to do it for a Democratic Senate and a Democratic House,” Obama said before concluding his 15-minute remarks.
After that, it was on to Eychaner’s house, where about 56 people sat down to dinner at round tables. Waiters later served desert, which included chocolate covered strawberries.
There, Obama spoke of the gains his administration has achieved despite GOP opposition.
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“The deficit has been cut by more than half. Clean energy we’ve doubled. Greenhouse gases we’ve lowered. Exports were on track to double. College enrollment we’re hitting all time peaks,” he said.
“We’ve ended one war and we’re in the process of ending the second. We’re producing more energy than we ever have before.”
From those measures, “you would say indisputably that we are better off now than when I went into office.”
“Yet, there’s still anxiety all across America,” he said, noting people might be worried about losing their jobs or worried about the value of their home dropping.
“There are a lot of issues that we face in this country but nothing is more important than restoring, making real, that idea: that if you work hard in this country you can make it,” Obama said.
“I need a new Congress. But at minimum, I have to have a Democratic Senate.”
And that will take Demoratic votes — and, Obama noted, Democrats have a “congenital disease” that seems to keep them from voting in midterm elections.
“This is pretty straightforward. I need more votes. I need people voting to reflect our stance on the issues.”
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Obama had arrived earlier in the day at O’Hare Airport, and was met by Mayor Rahm Emanuel at about 5:30 p.m.
From there, the president and mayor took the presidential helicopter Marine 1, touching down at 6:13 p.m. in a parking lot near Montrose. The motorcade began rolling south on Lake Shore Drive soon after to head to the Gold Coast fund-raiser. Chicagoans took pictures as the motorcade rolled by, while traffic came to a snarl.
Residents in a high-rise across from the Gold Coast home peered out their windows and snapped pictures on balconies. Bikers and joggers took pictures and waved as the Obama motorcade headed to the second fundraiser on Lake Shore Drive.
Obama’s second stop in Chicago is a dinner at the Lincoln Park residence of Eychaner, one of the biggest Democratic donors in the nation.
The Thursday proceeds will be split between Durbin’s campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which would spend it on Durbin if he needs the help.
The Chicago price points, according to the invite:
* The ask is $35,000 per couple for the Eychaner dinner and a photo with Obama, or $17,500 per person. About 50 people are expected for the dinner.
* $15,000 to be listed as a Polsky reception co-chair, with a photo.
* $10,000 to be a reception sponsor, with a photo.
* $1,000 reception guest, no photo.
Ahead of the events, the Republican National Committee issued a statement that said, “Instead of raising money for Dick Durbin and Harry Reid, President Obama should be explaining to Chicago veterans why the Hines VA denied them the care they deserved while collecting over $16 million in bonuses.”
The Veterans Administration is at the center of a scandal after allegations of delays and book cooking at the Hines VA hospital near Maywood.
On Thursday, Durbin met with embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in his Capitol Office.
Also on Thursday, Sen. Mark Kirk R-Ill pressed the VA open an investigation into all Illinois veterans’ hospitals.
Obama returned to his Kenwood home to spend the night after the events concluded. He was last in Chicago for an April 2 major-money fundraiser to benefit the Democratic National Committee.
Contributing: Lynn Sweet, Tina Sfondeles