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Democrats in Search of a Fiery Speech

Democratic leaders hope President Barack Obama gives a stern lecture to Congress on its ineffectiveness when he delivers his State of the Union address this week.

While a combative speech could include some unpleasant moments for all Members, Democrats say they are happy to sit through them as long as Obama touts some of their party’s accomplishments and goes after Republicans.

“We rise and fall with him, so if he bashes Congress, we need to be fine with that,” a House Democratic leadership aide said.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) said he anticipates the president will again offer to work with Republicans on legislation — something Democrats hope will remind voters of the times last year  when Republican leaders walked away from the negotiating table during talks on the debt and the federal budget.

“I would expect that the president would continue to invite Republicans to work with him and House Democrats to rebuild the middle class, create jobs and strengthen the recovery,” Israel said last week.

He added: “This will be the fourth time, I believe, that the president has come to the Congress and invited Republicans to work with him. I hope on the fourth time they’ll decide to actually do that.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also recently embraced the Obama campaign’s efforts to vilify Congress and run against the legislature in his re-election campaign. Democratic aides note that while the president’s message appears to include their own bosses, as long as it works for Obama, it will work for them.

Still, some Democrats insist that Obama needs to make the distinction between their party and the GOP if he decides to go negative against Congress. Israel, leading the effort by House Democrats to win back the majority, readily conceded that an anti-Congress message presents some challenges.

“Would I like him to use the word ‘Republican’ more in his verbiage? Yes,” Israel said.

But it’s a small price to pay, he continued.

“I think voters are smart enough to know who should be held accountable for the gridlock, and it’s the Republicans who manage the House of Representatives,” he said.

Senate sources indicated the president’s speech Tuesday could resemble, in content and tenor, an address he delivered last month in Kansas. That speech was infused with a populist tone and was noted by many as one of Obama’s first real campaign pitches of 2012.

It’s that campaign Obama, the fiery and lofty born-again candidate, whom Democrats are eager to hear.

Last year, Democrats across the Capitol feared the president would move too far to the center to placate a new and large Republican majority in the House. They worried a badly bruised president, rebuked by the 2010 midterm elections, would throw their own interests under the bus.

But a lot has changed since then. Just last month, Democrats found themselves on the winning side of a fight over the payroll tax cut, and that has given them new confidence as the president heads into what could be one of the most important speeches of his career.

Senate Democrats, the group that has the most to lose in 2012, are keeping quiet before Obama’s big speech. They have fewer demands this time around, though Senate sources familiar with the White House’s thinking on the address indicate he will hammer home issues important to them: the full-year payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits extension; issues of economic fairness; the unfinished pieces of Obama’s jobs bill, chiefly infrastructure; and more criticism of the Supreme Court’s 2010 campaign finance ruling that led to the increased influence of super PACs.

Now more than ever, Democrats acknowledge they will again need Obama’s coattails if they are to hold on to the Senate and make gains in the House, so they hope Tuesday night will be one of a united party front and soaring political rhetoric.

Democrats might not be able to rebottle that rare 2008 hope and enthusiasm, but they are angling to energize their base in an election that may come down to which party’s base is least disgruntled with its leaders.

During an appearance on MSNBC on Friday, Rep. Loretta Sanchez said it’s important for the president to point to the accomplishments made under Congressional Democrats when they were in control of both chambers.

“We accomplished a lot when Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives and we had President Obama with us,” the California Democrat said. “There’s a sharp contrast between what we did then … versus sort of do-nothing, which is what’s going on in Congress right now.”

Of course, not everyone wants Obama to go negative or hit Republicans.

With Congress beginning the new year with a record-low 13 percent approval rating, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC poll, moderates contend that Obama’s message should be more conciliatory.

“The Congress needs to work with the president to accomplish something in 2012,” retiring Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas) said. “I’m hoping the president says, ‘Look, not everything is expected from Washington in an election year, but we can’t continue on in this regard.’”

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