President Obama left Washington on Wednesday morning, flying to Wisconsin, where he began to sell his upbeat vision of an America that can overcome its economic woes by creating jobs and freezing some federal spending.
In the wake of his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, the president took to the road, leaving behind a Capitol that was politically divided despite a night of good feelings. Democrats and Republicans, mingled in their seating arrangement, listened to the president for more than an hour, but the thorny political battles over how much and where to cut spending are still on the horizon.
On the flight to Green Bay, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president felt good about his speech, which, according to overnight surveys, was well received by the public.
Obama "was fundamentally pleased with the way it went last night because I think fundamentally it tells the story of our future and the challenges that a global economy gives us but most importantly to remind ourselves that America has for 200 years risen to any number of global challenges," Gibbs told pool reporters on Air Force One.
Obama arrived in Green Bay midmorning and was greeted by local officials who handed the president, a Chicago Bears fan, jerseys from the Green Bay Packers, who are heading to the Super Bowl after defeating their longtime rivals, the Bears.
"They're rubbing it in," Obama yelled to the poolers as he held out a shirt with his name on the back. The shirt, sporting Obama 1, was autographed by Charles Woodson, Packers cornerback, who wrote, "See you at the White House. … Go Packers!"
Obama continued the seasonal football metaphors as he visited Orion Energy Systems in Manitowoc. The president quoted legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, who headed the Packers. "There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game, and that's first place."
"That's the kind of determination to win that America needs to show right now," Obama said. "That means making sure that all of our children are getting the best education possible — not only because we need to give every child a chance to fulfill her God-given potential, but because we need to make sure American workers can go head to head with every other country on Earth."
After Orion, a power technology company that designs, manufactures and deploys energy-efficient and renewable-energy technology, Obama visited two more factories: the Skana Aluminum Co. and Broadwind Towers, Tower Tech Systems, manufacturer of wind turbine towers. The tours were abbreviated, however, so that the president could return early to Washington because of poor weather.
The factory visits are in keeping with one of Obama's major themes Tuesday night: The United States needs to increase innovation and investment to create more jobs. Obama has frequently pushed for alternative energy and technology as ways to do that, and he repeated that stand Tuesday night.
The president, politically reinvigorated by a rising approval rating in the wake of a productive lame-duck session last year and a strong speech this month after the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., also offered Republicans a chance to work with him in a new era of cooperation. One of the symbols of that joining together was the black-and-white ribbons most lawmakers wore to honor the victims of the shooting spree that killed six and wounded 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was meeting with constituents on Jan. 8 when she was attacked.
But that harmony temporarily covered up a deep political divide that began to reassert itself Wednesday morning. Republicans have insisted that the first priority is cutting spending before dealing with the other items on the president's agenda.
"We need to force the budget down," Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia said on CBS' "The Early Show." Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House, added that Republicans were willing to work with Obama.
"The president and I are going to disagree on some things," Cantor said. "I think I want to cut spending more than he does. I obviously disagree on the way to improve healthcare in this country. But I did hear the president talk about some things that we can do to create jobs in this country. Such as simplify the tax code, lower the corporate rate so we can get people back to work, work on trade deals so we can create more jobs here at home. There are certainly some things we can work together on."
Republicans in the House already have voted to cut their own spending by 5% and passed a resolution on Tuesday saying they were in favor of reducing most domestic spending to the same levels as when Obama took office two years ago. Seventeen Democrats crossed the aisle to vote with the GOP.