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House Democrats, Obama Summon Spirit of Al Green

CAMBRIDGE, Md. — President Barack Obama pushed House Democrats today to score some legislative victories and hang tough against Congressional Republicans in their pursuit to regain the majority in 2012.

Speaking before the Caucus on the last day of its annual issues retreat, Obama acknowledged “It’s going to be a tough election because a lot of people are still hurting out there and a lot of people are losing faith about the capacity for Washington to get anything done.”

But he urged Democrats to push for a payroll tax cut extension and to embrace Republicans on issues on which the two parties agree. And when they can’t find cooperation, Obama said, “we’ve got to call them out on it.”

“Where they obstruct, where they are unwilling to act, where they are most interested in party more than country…we’ve got to call them out on it.”

In a statement, Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman asserted that Democrats are the ones who have evaded bipartisan compromise.

“Every time Speaker Boehner reached an agreement with the White House last year, the House of Representatives has passed it,” spokesman Michael Steel said in an email. “The problem is that the President and Vice President haven’t been willing to get serious and work with us to help create jobs — instead they’ve doubled-down on the policies that have made the economy worse.”

Obama addressed the Democratic Caucus just two hours after Vice President Joseph Biden delivered his own motivational speech. Both men touched on similar themes, with Obama’s 20-minute address including many of the priorities he highlighted in his State of the Union address.

As he did before a joint session Tuesday, Obama called for a comprehensive energy plan, a boost to the manufacturing industry and an overhaul of the tax code. Obama’s remarks were met with wide applause and a handful of standing ovations. Indeed, Congressional Democrats were so excited to see the commander in chief they recorded a CD featuring their own rendition of the Al Green song “Let’s Stay Together” and presented it to him ahead of his speech.

Obama did his own version of the Green song earlier this month to a crowd of supporters at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, N.Y.

Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.), who introduced Obama ahead of the casual remarks, said the president has “reignited and re-energized this Caucus.” Larson’s passionate introduction of the president drew several amens, head nods and whistles that grew loud once again after Obama hailed Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) as the “soon-to-be, once-again Speaker of the House.”

While Obama said the economy is “moving in the right direction,” he noted that he has his own uphill climb to winning a second term in November. He did not mention the GOP presidential candidates by name, but Obama did say “When the other side decides who they want to be their standard-bearer, then we’ll have a robust debate.”

In the meantime, Obama encouraged Members to talk up the legislative accomplishments they produced while they were in the majority and to debunk GOP assertions of class warfare when they talk about overhauling the tax system to increase rates for high-income earners.

“This is one of the biggest things I’m going to be pushing against this year, that somehow this is class warfare,” he pledged. As he concluded to applause, Obama acknowledged the tough votes House Democrats have taken in the past, including the health care vote that many Democrats singled out as the primary blame for their lost seats in 2010. This time around, Obama pledged to be by their side.

“You guys have had my back at some very tough times. I’m going to have your back as well,” he said. “And together we’re going to move this country forward.”

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