Washington (CNN) – In a fiery speech at the Congressional Black Caucus awards dinner, President Obama challenged Republicans in Congress to show they care about job creation and was roundly cheered for showing he’s “going to fight” to fire up his supporters in a battle to “save the country.”
As he has done frequently in the weeks since he introduced the American Jobs Act, the president repeatedly called on Congress to pass the bill.
With the unemployment rate higher for blacks than for any other ethnic group - at 16.7 percent - the president has come under criticism from some in the black community who believe his administration has not done enough to address the issue. Saturday night, he made a point of spelling out some of the measures in the jobs bill that would help the hardest hit communities, like the 100,000 black-owned businesses that would get a tax cut for hiring a new worker or giving workers a raise, and programs to help low-income youth get summer jobs.
"These Republicans in Congress like to talk about job creators. How about doing something real for job creators?" he said, prompting cheers and applause. "You say you’re the party of tax cuts. Pass this jobs bill, and every worker in America, including nearly 20 million African-American workers, will get a tax cut. Pass this jobs bill, and prove you’ll fight just as hard for a tax cut for ordinary folks as you do for all your contributors."
The audience erupted with laughter when he joked that Republicans have not always been against the kind of infrastructure spending he has proposed. "You all used to like to build roads, right? What happened?" the president asked, tongue firmly in cheek.
After the speech, several CBC members said they were pleased with the message. Rep. Donna Edwards , D-Md., said it was a "call to action." She said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle know where the battle lines are drawn on the issues and complaining about that will not accomplish anything - they must fight for what they want.
"He showed he's going to fight," she said.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said the president "took his gloves off" and that it was the right approach.
"This is the first day of the beginning of a season of pressure" on Republicans in Congress, Jackson Lee said. "I think that this is now, for his own sake, a sense of reckoning that although his temperament as president of the United States for everybody – is to include everyone – there's a time now that the marching has to begin, because he's got to save this country and we're willing to save it with him."
Rep. Greg Meeks , D-N.Y., said it was important to see the president transition from governing mode to campaign mode and that he must keep the pressure on Congress, travel to districts where people are hurting and show them that he feels their pain.
"He needs to fire up the base and that's what tonight will do," Meeks said.