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Obama slams congressional Republicans in economy speech at Lake Harriet

The President blamed Republican obstruction for holding back middle-class families.

President Obama at Lake Harriet Friday morning: “Republicans in Congress this year have voted down every single serious idea to strengthen the middle class.”
MinnPost photo by Jana Freiband

President Barack Obama railed against Republicans in Congress and credited Democratic policies for helping struggling middle class families in front of more than 3,000 Minnesotans Friday, capping a two-day blitz of events around the Twin Cities ahead of a contentious election this fall.

Obama’s speech at the Lake Harriet Bandshell in Minneapolis echoed themes of economic equality that he discussed Thursday at a private town hall event in Minnehaha Park, but the president used the public event to come down harder on Republicans in Washington, D.C. He ticked off a number of issues that have stalled this year in Congress, including a minimum wage increase to $10.10 per hour, a proposal for equal pay for all workers and extending unemployment benefits.

“Republicans in Congress this year have voted down every single serious idea to strengthen the middle class,” he said. “Over and over again they’ve shown that they’ll do anything to keep in place systems that really help folks at the top but don’t help you. They don’t seem to mind.”

Obama won’t face the ballot this fall, but Minnesota’s U.S. House delegation is up, as well as DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Sen. Al Franken and the DFL-controlled state House. Midterm election years see a considerable drop in Democratic voter turnout, but political operatives hope the president’s visit will help rally the base in a liberal stronghold like Minneapolis. Republicans hoped the opposite, citing his low job-approval ratings this month.

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Before arriving at the park, the president visited a workforce development center for young women in North Minneapolis. He was introduced to the crowd by Rebekah Erler, 36, who he joined at Matt’s Bar for a famed “Jucy Lucy” burger on Thursday. Erler, who Republicans have criticized for her former work as Democratic campaign staffer, wrote a letter to the president back in March about her family’s struggles during the economic downturn.

“The letter Rebekah sent stood out,” Obama told the crowd. “It reminded Michelle and I of some of our own experiences. It’s the story of the last five years, the American story.”

He hit on a handful of issues more than others during his two days in Minneapolis, including increasing the federal minimum wage, equal pay for women and workplace flexibility for mothers and families. Mentions of increasing the minimum wage drew loud cheers from the crowd — Minnesota lawmakers passed a more than $3 increase to its wage by 2016 in the Legislature this year.

“We’ve made enormous strides,” he said. “That’s not the end of the story. We have more work to do.”

Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Amy Klobuchar gave the president a brief introduction, while former and current Minneapolis mayors R.T. Rybak and Betsy Hodges and Congressman Keith Ellison looked on.

Obama mostly stuck to his economic message, but he joked with the friendly Democratic crowd too. “I’ve been wanting to visit a place where all the women are strong and all the men are good looking,” he said. “This is clearly an example of what Minnesota produces.”