EAST LANSING, Mich. — The warm-up act for President Barack Obama's speech here Friday featured a four-piece jazz band playing in front of a John Deere tractor. Obama's quest to bring together two other disparate elements — Democrats and Republicans — was not as successful.
The president traveled to this college town to tout the passage of a $1 trillion farm bill this week, a rare bipartisan achievement by Congress that the president was eager to highlight. Six congressional Democrats flew aboard Air Force One — but none of the two dozen Republicans invited by Obama showed up.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., had other obligations, one of his aides said. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was busy with his annual staff retreat. The only person to greet Obama at the airport was Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, a Democrat who shook the president's hand in the bitter, below-zero-degree weather.
So the go-it-alone president carried on without them.
"This was a good sign Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come through with this bill and break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven, partisan decision-making," Obama told a crowd of 500 at the McPhail Equine Performance Center on the Michigan State University campus.
Having pledged during his State of the Union address last month to more forcefully apply his executive authority to work around Republican opposition, Obama may have managed to make the problem even worse.
Republicans have been attacking Obama for altering health care law requirements, deferring deportations of young illegal immigrants and using his "pen and phone" — Obama's phrase. Republicans say this is rule by "executive order tyranny."
Boehner said this week that Obama is "feeding more distrust about whether he is committed to the rule of law."
White House advisers said House Republicans' long-standing opposition to Obama's agenda means that he has no choice but to be more forceful.
At Michigan State, Obama announced an initiative that aims to connect farmers with federal resources to help them sell their products abroad.
"Now, some of this opportunity agenda that I put forward will require congressional action, it's true," Obama said. "But as I said at the State of the Union, America does not stand still; neither will I. That's why over the past two weeks I've taken steps — without legislation, without congressional action — to expand opportunity for more families."