Obama jobs pledge shifts onus to GOP

WASHINGTON: In his nationally televised speech last night, President Barack Obama unveiled details of his $447-billion job stimulus package.

WASHINGTON: In his nationally televised speech last night, President Barack Obama unveiled details of his $447-billion job stimulus package.

But PR pros say the message was clearly designed to put the onus back on the Republican Party—almost daring them to vote down or delay the legislation. During his speech, President Obama urged Congress to pass the American Jobs Act 17 times.

“That's what he needed to do: to make the conversation less about his plan and more about those who [might be] critical of it,” says Stan Collender, partner at Qorvis Communications. “It now puts the Republican party behind the eight ball.”

That's because if the GOP votes it down, it'll likely be cast as obstructing progress in the Senate in a mission to defeat Obama next fall. And if it supports the plan, it will head into a reelection year with the Democrats having celebrated an important legislative victory.

President Obama also likely chose to make his address before a joint session of Congress because it gave him the best platform from which to showcase his skills as an orator.

“There is a certain majesty in communicating in the House chamber; you couldn't get a set designer to make it much more majestic,” Collender tells PRWeek. “It's the reason why the state of the union address is much better received than the follow-up from the opposition party, which is usually just one person in front of a camera.”

In addition to his speech, the name of the legislation also seems designed to put pressure on the Republicans, says Rachel Kerestes, strategy director at MiresBall and a former political operative.

“Branding this package of legislation as the American Jobs Act is a smart move. It shows he has put a stake in the ground,” says Kerestes. “But it also reminds me of the Patriot Act, in the sense that if you vote it down does it mean you're against patriotism or, in this case, jobs?”

But while President Obama once again exploited his considerable skills as an orator, he will have to make a major communications push moving forward. He has low approval ratings and was sketchy on specifics of the plan, particularly in terms of how it will ultimately be paid for.

Now President Obama hits the road, first at event today in Richmond, VA and then Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday.

He will do so with the support of a number of labor and business associations, including the AFL-CIO, which issued a statement Thursday night from its president Richard Trumka. Trumka was among the guests sitting with first lady Michelle Obama during the President's address to Congress.

However, President Obama does not have the endorsement of the US Chamber of Commerce, which also issued a statement Thursday night. In it, Chamber CEO Thomas Donohue said Obama's ideas “appear to fall short”, and instead urged support of the Chamber's six-point job plan outlined in an open letter to Congress and President Obama.

Earlier this week, the Chamber kicked off a media blitz in support of that plan, which included an exclusive to the AP and an op-ed, bylined by Donohue, in The Columbus Dispatch. Marty Regalia, the Chamber's chief economist, also appeared on a number of TV networks, including CNBC and Fox.

In a letter to Chamber heads across the country as well as other association heads, Tom Collamore, SVP, communications and strategy, wrote, “Our goal is to mobilize the business community and the American public in support of achievable and practical private sector solutions to our nation's serious economic challenges.”

Collamore tells PRWeek, “We've had tremendous response from local chambers and business members.”

So while President Obama may have shifted the debate a little, he clearly has a lot more persuading to do yet.

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