President Obama left the Cleveland area and an afternoon of health care reform events for two Democratic National Committee fundraisers in Chicago, where he struck a defensive and at times defiant tone about his top priority.
After touching down in his home city for the third time since taking office, Obama first attended a $15,200-a-person dinner at the Lincoln Park home his campaign fundraiser Penny Pritzker, where he took a shot at the media for what he deemed its "lack of sustained focus on the facts" concerning health care reform, which he said "makes it very difficult" for him.
Then he moved on to an event at the Hyatt Regency, where he defiantly told a crowd of about 750 donors, "We are going to pass health care reform in 2009."
And he used the backdrop of the street-fighter politics that define his home city to fire back at his Republican critics — one of whom, Sen. Jim DeMint, he said has told the GOP that defeating health care reform would “break” Obama.
Let me tell you something," Obama said. "I'm from Chicago. I don't break."
Obama tried to put the best face on the setback to his reform plans he was dealt Thursday, after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's announcement.
"So even though we still have a few issues to work out, what's remarkable about this point is not how far we have left to go, it's how far we've already come," Obama said.
"I understand how easy it is for folks in Washington to become consumed by the game of politics."
He did his fair share of criticizing Washington and "the status quo" on health care, and declared the country to be "at an unmistakable crossroad."
"There's some in Washington who want us to go down the path that we've already traveled for the last decade or so," Obama said, "the path where we just throw up our hands and say, 'Oh this is just too tough.'"
Earlier Obama worked a room of over 100 people and posed for pictures at Pritzker's home, where guests nibbled on gazpacho shooters and watermelon salad.
He told the donors that opposition to his health care reform bill "gets on my nerves. It frustrates me that we'd even be suggesting the status quo is the best we can do."
He also praised his administration, saying that it had "reset relations not just with Russia" but with the world.
"Anti-Americanism is no longer fashionable," he said.
He made similar statements at the Hyatt fundraiser, where he also credited his administration with being able to "pull the economy back from the brink."
The Hyatt event was billed as a "Welcome Home" reception, where Obama met the coach and quarterback of the Chicago Bears — Lovie Smith and Jay Cutler — as well as retired Chicago Bulls point guard B.J. Armstrong and Tracy McGrady of the Houston Rockets.
"I'm honored to be a part of the welcoming group to welcome home my favorite son," Smith told the crowd. "I have the audacity of hope that the Chicago Bears will someday be visiting the White House giving the president a Chicago Bears football to toss around on the South Lawn."
Obama was basking in a sports glow after his favorite baseball team pitched a perfect game, and said somebody asked him which was a bigger deal: the White Sox's perfect game or the Dow going over 9,000.
"And I said I promise you, I promise you, a perfect game," Obama said. "That's big."
The president wrapped himself in the hometown welcome. Some of the first words he spoke during remarks at the Hyatt were, "It's good to be home."
"It has now been six months since Michelle and Sasha and Malia and Marian Robinson, my mother-in-law, said goodbye and moved into a nice little spot in Washington, D.C.," Obama said. "And we arrived there at an incredibly difficult moment in this country's history."
At one point in his remarks a woman yelled, "Give 'em hell, Barack."
Obama reiterated his pitch that "health insurance reform" is not just about the uninsured — although he said helping them is "a moral imperative" — but about lowering costs and increasing quality for Americans who have coverage.
The two events are expected to raise as much as $3 million for the DNC.
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