02-19-2017  6:05 pm      •     

DES MOINES, Iowa – Arguing doggedly against returning Republicans to power, President Barack Obama told Iowa voters Wednesday that the GOP has been dishonest about what needs to be done to revive the economy and restore middle-class dreams.
"We can't pretend that there are shortcuts," the president said, addressing about 70 voters in a grassy backyard.
"When you look at the choice we face in this election coming up," Obama said, "the other side, what it's really offering is the same policies that from 2001 to 2009 put off hard problems and didn't really speak honestly to the American people about how we're gonna get this country on track over the long term."
Five weeks ahead of midterm elections that will determine whether Democrats retain control of Congress, Obama confronted stark voter angst. The first question he got was from a woman who said of her son, a recent college graduate, and his friends: "They are losing their hope which is a message you inspired them with."
Obama responded by citing a list of areas of optimism, ones she could tell her son about it. He said his government is providing more students loans, trying to encourage private job growth, and making tough decisions now that will help the county reclaim its rightful stand as the top leader in innovation and entrepreneurship.
Over the long term, the president assured, "their future will be fine."
Obama spoke to about 70 people at the home of Jeff and Sandy Clubb. It's the second such "backyard discussion" he's holding in as many days as he tries to convince Americans to keep Democrats in power. The president will finish a four-state tour Wednesday afternoon with a meeting with voters in Richmond, Va.
In the Clubb backyard the president had a homey setting, with a birdfeeder and tiki torches visible on the lawn behind him.
But his questioners, while polite, weren't always friendly, underscoring Democrats' challenge in winning votes in a troubled economy.
One man, who described himself as a small business owner manufacturing promotional items like T-shirts and lawn signs, criticized Obama's plans for allowing tax cuts on income over $250,000 a year to expire.
"As the government gets more and more involved in business and more and more involved in taxes, what you're finding is you're strangling those job creation vehicles," the man said.
The president disputed that, saying he's already signed eight pieces of legislation providing small business tax cuts.
Showing some frustration, Obama said: "Your taxes haven't gone up in this administration. Your taxes have gone down in this administration. There's a notion that, well, he's a Democrat so your taxes must have gone up. That's just not true."
"I also have to make sure we're paying our bills" and not leaving debt for future generations, the president said.
A priest in the audience told Obama of a parishioner who lost his job in manufacturing and can't find a new one. The president said that some manufacturing jobs won't come back and the parishioner might need to develop new skills to work in growth sectors like clean energy.
Even in an election season, the president said, he can't always tell people what they want to hear. Moving forward will take "some tough but necessary adjustments," he said.
There is irony in Obama using Iowa as a venue to try to avert a Republican landslide. His victory in the January 2008 Iowa caucus put him on the path to the Democratic presidential nomination, and he carried the state comfortably that November against Republican John McCain.
But almost every state is a battleground in this fall's congressional elections, and Obama is devoting ever more time to campaigning for his party.
A rally he held Tuesday night at the University of Wisconsin came the closest so far to recapturing the enthusiasm of his 2008 drive to the White House. He implored young voters who backed him in 2008 to vote for Democrats this fall.
"Every single one of you is a shareholder in that mission of rebuilding our country and reclaiming our future," he told thousands of students packing the campus's chilly Library Mall.
"We can't let this country fall backwards because the rest of us didn't care enough to fight," he said. "The stakes are too high for our country and for your future."

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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