Welcome to the Clubb house, Mr. President

At about 9:30 a.m. an organizer of today’s event picked up a microphone and address the crowd:  “Welcome to the Clubb house.”  See a slide show of photos from today’s event.  Read the Radio Iowa story.  What follows is a live blog of the event.

Jeff Clubb and his wife, Sandy Hatfield Clubb, are hosting one of President Obama’s “backyard conversations” in their backyard.  Their brick home faces the east. The backyard on the west side of their home stretches for a couple of lots in this northwest neighborhood of Des Moines called Beaverdale.

About 70 people — all invited guests — checked in around eight o’clock this morning just down the street. A Drake athlete was manning a clipboard to check the invitation list.  Sandy Hatfield Clubb is Drake University’s athletic director, so there’s a Drake contingent here today, including David Maxwell, the president of Drake University.

The bishop of the Des Moines Catholic Diocese is here as well.   The Clubbs are members of Holy Trininty, the Catholic church in the Beaverdale neighborhood and Jeff Clubb is a social studies teacher at Holy Trinity’s elementary school.  Some of the guests have connects to the school.  I chatted with a man who is both a neighbor down the street and the parent of a girl in one of Clubb’s classes.

The invited crowd was advised this was a casual event, so men in the crowd were encouraged to leave the neck ties and suit jackets at home.  The chairs for the crowd are spread out in a half-moon, under the canopy of the large trees that shade the Clubb’s backyard.

The couple’s garage has been converted into a media center.  Big screen televisions are set up so reporter who’ll be working inthat space can watch the event live, as they’ll be sitting indoors with their backs to the backyard.

Photo: Jennifer Jacobs of The Des Moines Register

I’m among a crew of reporters and photographers sitting in the driveway, with my laptop on a folding table.  The sun is now shining driectly on us, so I’ve flung my coat over the laptop and my head to create a shaded space so I can see what I’m typing.  Here’s a bit of a preview story, with comments from the crowd.

It’s now 9:54 a.m. and we just heard yelling from down the street.  It sounds like POTUS is in the neighborhood.  At about 10:05 p.m. Obama arrived and said: “Hello, everybody!”

He began by thanking the hosts.  “Since we are here, I should just say, ‘Go Bulldogs!’  — I know how to work a crowd,” Obama said, to laughter.

Obama recognized the elected officials in the crowd, then launched into his remarks. “I spent a few months here in Iowa a couple of years ago.  It is wonderfful to be back.  I am not going to give a long speech on the front end here.  What I really want to do is hear from you.”

“…There is an election coming up, although I’m going to try to avoid making just a straight political speech here.  When I started running for president back…in 2007 and 2008, the reason I was willing to go into the race even though Michelle was not crazya about politics and I have two young daughters who are the center of my world…and I was going to be away for quite a bit, was the feeling that the country was at a crossroads and we had decisions we’d been putting off for decades…but what concerned me most was the nature of our economy and how the American dream seemed as if it was slipping away from the American people…The middle class, which is the beating heart of our economy, and those aspiring to the middle class were finding it harder to get ahead.”

Without mentioning former President George W. Bush by name, he assailed a “set of policies” — namely tax cuts —  that “didn’t work,” according to Obama.

Obama on the economy: “I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve been able to keep the economy from going into a second Great Depression….The economy’s still not growing as fast as it needs to.”

The structural problems in the economy “still didn’t go away” according to Obama and the president said his administration is “not taking our eye off the ball.”

Obama, a few seconds later: “The challenges that the economy faces are still great…but we’re on the right path.”

Obama said the situation requires putting aside “politics as usual” and  “telling people things they don’twant to hear.”

Obama addressed the Republicans’ Pledge to America without saying the work Republican or the phrase Pledge to America.  “What it’s really offering is the same politics that from 2001 to 2009 put off hard problems and didn’t really speak honestly to the American people about how we’re going to get this country on track for the long term…Keep in mind we’re not going to be able to solve our big problems unless we’re able to honestly address them….We can’t pretend there are short cuts.”

The first question came from a woman named Mary Stier, who retired in 2007 from her job as publisher of The Des Moines Register.  She asked a question on behalf of her 24-year-old son who campaigned for Obama and is  still struggling to find a full-time job.

The second question came from Bob Brammer, the recently-retired spokesman for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.  Brammer asked about the “enormous amount” spent in money and in human capital on the “decade-long” wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama referenced a speech he made a West Point.  “I’m interested in nation building here at home,” Obama said.  “…I was opposed to the war in Iraq…We have now ended our combat mission in Iraq.”

The crowd applauded.  “Now Afghanistan was a war that most people right after 9/11 overwhelmingly understood was important and necessary…The situation there is very tough…We’re not going to get it perfect there…but I do think that what we are seeing is the possibility of…keeping pressure on al Qaeda so they’re not able to launch attacks.”

Next question came from a woman named Jeanette McKensey (guessing on the spelling).  She’s asking a question about her mother’s health.  “I have great concerns over my health bill,” McKensey said.  She’s talking about stories told to her by a British acquaintance. “I can’t fathom, now, how can you get excited in your youth when you have to save, save, save…”

Obama: “Let me ask you a question…Is your mom on Medicare?

McKensey: “Yes.”

Obama: “There’s nothing in our health reform bill that is going to impact whether your mom can get heart surgery if she needed it.  We didn’t change the core Medicare program…”

McKensey: “Medicare doesn’t start ’til you’re 65.  I’m talking about 50, 55 years old…”

Obama: “Do you have health insurance?

McKensey: “Yes, right now….”

Obama: “I just want to identify what your worry is…what is it you think might be impacted by health insurance reform?”

Obama starts with an explanation of the many facets of health care reform, and McKensey responds: “We all agree there needs to be health reform, OK?  We just moved out here a year ago from Las Vegas, OK?  There are illegal immigrants that are getting free health care right now, OK?”

Obama said there is “no doubt” there are hospitals and doctors giving a lot of uncompensated care to a lot of people, including undocumented workers.

“If there’s some child badly injured, sick, they’re not going to check on their immigration status…I think it is very important for us to make sure that we have compassion as part of our national character,” Obama said, and the crowd applauded.

“…There’s nothing in my health care plan that covers undocumented workers,” Obama said, adding undocumented workers” underutilize the health care system becuase, he said, they’re afraid they’ll get caught and deported.

Toward the end of his remarks on this topic, Obama added: “I understand why people are concerned.”

The next question came from a man who I don’t think identified his name, but shared he’s 53 and a Drake graduate.  (UPDATE: his name is Dave Greenspon.)  He’s talking about his business.  I think he’s headed toward a question about taxing what he described as “that elitist two percent.”  He gets to this, about the idea of not extending the Bush-era tax cuts to households with an annual income of over $250,000: “You’re sort of strangling the engine that does create jobs,” Greenspon told Obama of the prospect of NOT extending the Bush tax cuts to households with annual inocmes above $250,000.

Obama responded: “I’m thrilled that you’ve been able to build a business.  I have signed eight small business tax cuts since I came into office and the package tha twe signed this week cut taxes in eight more ways, so your taxes haven’t gone up in this administration,” Obama said, to applause.  “I just want to be clear about this…I just think the notion, well, he’s a Democrat so you’re taxes have gone up.  That’s just not true.”

Regarding the Bush tax cuts, Obama said:  “If you’re making $300,000, you’re still getting a tax break on the first $250,000 of income…The reason I think it’s important for us to do this is not because I’m not sympathetic to small businesses…but 98 percent of small businesses actually have a profit of less than $250,000.”

“…To say to the top two percent of businesses, which by the way includes hedge fund managers who set up an ‘S’ corporation and are pulling down $1 billion a year…to say to them, ‘You’ve got to pay a modestly higher amount to make sure our budget, over time, gets balanced’ — I think that’s a fair thing to do.  When I talk to a lot of businesses, they just don’t want super-high rates like those that existed before Ronald Reagan came to office…I would like to see a lower corporate tax rate.”

Next question comes from Marti Anderson, head of the state’s Crime Victim Services agency (she supported Hillary Clinton during the Caucuses and she’s married to the aforementioned Bob Brammer, by the way). “My question is about the poverty rate….One out seven people are in poverty…What are you going to do to help?”

Obama:  “It’s a profound question….It’s unacceptably high.  The single most improtant thing I can do to drive the poverty rate down is to grow the economy.  What has really increased poverty is folks losing their jobs and being much more vulnerable….The second most important thing I can do to reduce the poverty rate is to improve our education system….Right now, too many of our schools are failing.”

Obama tells the crowd he is “getting the sign. One more question.  I’m going to have to call on the guy with the collar.”

It is Father Michael Amadeo of the neighborhood’s Holy Trinity Church and school.

“Thank you for your leadership,” the priest begins. ” These are very tough economic times, tough times for our men and women being deployed.”

He asked a question on behalf of a member of his church who has been unemployed “for a year, plus.”

Obama:  “Obviously that story is duplicated all across the country.”

Obama talked about the 40,000 letters & email messages he receives daily at the White House.  His staff selects 10 for him to read at the end of each day.  “I know this is a representative sampling because about half the letters call me an idiot,” Obama joked.

Obama told the crowd many of the letters are from the unemployed and the children of the unemployed.

Obama touted the small business tax cuts and changes in tax policy to try to get businesses to start investing their profits again as things that will help “immediately.”  He also mentioned clean energy jobs.

“That parishoner is probably going to have to update some of their skills,” Obama said — if that parishoner worked in the manufacturing sector.  “…They’re probably going to need to work a computer better.”

Obama starts winding down. “This has bene terrific.  I am so grateful to all of you for being here.  As I listen to the questions, it’s a good reminder we’ve got a long way to go, but I do want everybody to feel encouraged about our future…America is still the wealthiest country on Earth.  We have the best colleges and universities on Earth….We’ve got the most productive workers of just about any advanced nation…Billions of people around the world would still love the chance to be here.”

He talked about the “tough, necessary adjustments” that are necessary to put the county on the right path.  He stopped speaking at 11: 21 a.m., then shook hands and posed for pictures with the crowd for another 15 minutes before leaving.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.