As President Obama’s job approval numbers show a drop, likely linked to the massive sequester budget cuts, the President spoke at a meeting of his new advocacy group in Washington Wednesday night, giving marching orders to Organizing for Action to pressure lawmakers into making what he deems the right decisions.
While the existence of the group has been roundly criticized by Republicans and by watchdog groups, Obama doesn’t seem deterred by the attacks. Rather, he pushes forward this bold experiment of converting his impressive campaign organization into a permanent lobbying group that can forcefully advocate for his political agenda.
“The only idea here that we’re promoting is the notion that if the American people are speaking out, organized, activated, that may give space here in Washington to do the kind of work — hopefully bipartisan work — that’s required,” Obama said in his first speech to the group at its two-day “founders summit.” “But in order to do that I’m going to need all your help.”
His speech was attended by staff, volunteers and wealthy campaign donors, who were asked to contribute $50,000 to the new group.
After he spent time on Capitol Hill courting House Republicans, the President said Congress also needed to be pressured from the outside.
“The politics of a lot of these issues are tough, and members sometimes are scared about making the right decisions,” he said to about 75 people at the closed-door dinner at the St. Regis Hotel, about two blocks from the White House.
One of the attendees was adviser and donor Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google.
According to published reports, the group’s leadership considered allowing donors who raise $500,000 a year to join an advisory board that would meet quarterly with the President, a move that would open the group up to more attacks for giving access to special interests seeking to influence the administration. In response to the critics, Organizing for Action last week reversed its decision to accept money from corporations.
“Organizing for Action is a mistake by President Obama that he should correct,” Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, which seeks tighter regulation of political money, told the New York Times. “Organizing for Action is an unprecedented entity that creates new opportunities for big donors and bundlers of large amounts to obtain corrupting influence over executive branch policies and decisions.”
David Plouffe, Obama’s longtime political strategist, opened the gathering by saying Organizing for Action “is something that should be celebrated, not criticized.”
“Just the notion that there’s millions of Americans that want to be part of these debates. . . that in my mind is reason enough to march forward,” he said.
“We are not a partisan organization,” said Executive Director Jon Carson. “We are here to move this shared progressive agenda forward, and we will advocate to Democrats to move that forward, we will advocate to Republicans.”
Obama in his speech acknowledged that the group had been met with some “suspicion,” but he said it was not created to boost Democrats in the 2014 midterm election.
“I actually just want to govern — at least for a couple of years,” he said.
One of the ways the group plans to counter the criticism is to voluntarily disclose the names of all donors who give more than $250, in addition to rejecting corporate and lobbyists’ contributions. As the Times pointed out, similar groups with close ties to the Republican leadership in Congress, like Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies and the American Action Network, do not disclose their donations.
“If Americans don’t organize to support the issues they believe in, and if we don’t help them do it, then lobbyists and special interests will drive Washington, just like they did for decades,” Jim Messina, chairman of Organizing for Action and Obama’s former campaign manager, told the gathering.
According to a new poll conducted by McClatchy-Marist, the President’s job approval numbers dropped to their worst level since November 2011 in the Marist poll. While the approval rating was at 50 percent in November and December 2012, after the disaster of the sequester cuts, now 45 percent of voters approve of the job Obama is doing while 48 percent disapprove.
As for his personal image, 48 percent of voters currently viewed him favorably, with 48 percent viewing him unfavorably. In November, those numbers were 53 percent to 44 percent.