As Obama Vents, His Poll Numbers Get A Bump

After weeks of falling poll numbers, President Obama got some good news this week: Two nationwide polls show his approval rating has inched up a few percentage points over the past month.

That rise coincides with the president’s monthlong nationwide campaign pressing Congress to pass his stalled jobs bill. His latest stop in that effort was in Washington on Wednesday, and it came on the eve of a vote in which Senate Republicans are expected to block a key part of his jobs bill.

As he spoke to supporters along the Potomac River near Key Bridge, Obama did something unusual — he got personal. It happened while he was venting his frustration with congressional Republicans for blocking the bill that aims, among other things, to rebuild crumbling bridges.

“I can’t imagine that Speaker [John] Boehner wants to represent a state where nearly 1 in 4 bridges is classified as substandard,” he said. “I’m sure that the speaker of the House would want to have bridges and roads in his state that are up to par.”

The president also called out by name Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, and vowed that his administration will act on its own to speed up the approval and financing of public works projects.

“I’ve said that I’ll do everything in my power to act on behalf of the American people, with or without Congress,” he said. “We can’t wait for Congress to do its job; if they won’t act, I will.”

Brown University congressional expert Wendy Schiller says the president is taking a page out of former President Clinton’s playbook. After being attacked personally for years by opponents, she says, Obama is turning the tables, much as Clinton did in the run-up to his re-election.

“[He's] saying, ‘Listen, if you’re gonna attack me and you’re gonna block me, and you’re not gonna work with me, then I’m gonna come at you with everything that I’ve got; and my strongest weapon, of course, is my party base. … I’m a Democratic president, and I’m gonna go for it and mobilize my base, at the same time letting the voters know that I’m trying to help you, and the Republicans are not, and here are the names and the faces and the specific members of Congress who are standing in our way,’ ” says Schiller.

As if to underscore the White House message that Republicans are playing politics with the jobs bill, the only Republican in the Obama Cabinet spoke at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had a sharp message for his erstwhile GOP colleagues in Congress.

“Let’s put the pure, hard-core politics — thinking about the next election — aside for one day, for one vote, and say, ‘What’s good for the American people?’ ” LaHood said.

That one vote is to take place Thursday in the Senate, on a bill that would spend $60 billion on rebuilding transportation infrastructure, paid for by a new tax of seven-tenths of 1 percent on personal income over $1 million. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday made clear that he expects Republicans to block the measure.

“Our Republican colleagues say they oppose this plan to hire hundreds of thousands of construction workers and rebuild our nation’s collapsing infrastructure, because they believe the wealthiest Americans can’t afford to pay a few pennies more,” Reid said.

And Senate Republican Leader McConnell also made clear that he and his colleagues had no intention of letting the infrastructure bill move forward.

“It’s not exactly a state secret that Republicans, and yes, some Democrats, don’t think we should be raising taxes right now on the very people we’re counting on to create the jobs that we need to get us out of the jobs crisis,” McConnell said.

And for Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, the president’s jobs bill is about politics, not jobs.

“This has unfortunately degenerated into an election year campaign, where the president spends all his time out on the road campaigning rather than working with us to try to solve the nation’s problems,” he said. “And I think people get the joke, and it’s not a funny joke.”

Joke or not, the new poll numbers seem to indicate the president’s strategy may be working.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.