Updated, 3:33 p.m.
With Republicans ramping up efforts to use rising gas prices as a political bludgeon, President Barack Obama on Thursday fully engaged his GOP critics, accusing them of making “phony election-year promises” to struggling voters.
At an event at the University of Miami, Obama leveled some of the harshest attacks of his presidency at Republicans in a red meat speech sure to enrage conservatives while energizing a Democratic base that has often been disillusioned with his often moderate tone in office.
Noting that the nation is “experiencing yet another painful reminder of why developing new energy is so critical,” Obama launched almost immediately into his attacks, telling the crowd that “some politicians, they see this as a political opportunity. I know you’re shocked by that. Last week, the lead of one news story said, ‘Gasoline prices are on the rise, and Republicans are licking their chops.’ ... Only in politics do people root for bad news, greet bad news so enthusiastically.
“And you can bet that since it’s an election year, they’re already dusting off their three-point plans for $2 gas. And I’ll save you the suspense: Step one is drill, step two is drill and then step three is to keep drilling. We heard the same thing in 2007, when I was running for president. We hear the same thing every year. We’ve heard the same thing for 30 years,” he added.
“Well, the American people aren’t stupid,” Obama said before laying out his plan to increase domestic energy production that includes increased reliance on alternative fuels, greater fuel efficiency and even added oil and gas drilling.
But while outlining his own plans, Obama continued to hit Republicans, even as he sought to caution Americans that prices will remain high due to international demand and uncertainty.
“Anybody who tells you we can drill our way out of this problem doesn’t know what they’re talking about — or just isn’t telling you the truth,” Obama charged.
Obama also called on Congress to eliminate subsidies for the oil and gas industry, calling the continued existence of those tax breaks and other incentives “outrageous. It’s inexcusable. And every politician who’s been fighting to keep these subsidies in place should explain to the American people why the oil industry needs more of their money.”
For months, Obama has been running explicitly against Congress as part of an effort to portray Republicans as obstructionists, and he continued to stick to that theme Thursday, at one point vowing, “With or without this Congress, I’ll continue to do whatever I can to develop every source of American energy so that our future isn’t controlled by events on the other side of the world.”
Obama’s confrontational tone is likely to please his progressive base, which since the failure of their universal health care plan in 2010 have increasingly viewed the administration with suspicion.
Republicans were quick to respond, firing their own volley across Obama's re-election bow.
"Facing an election, the president would like everyone to forget that gas prices have doubled over the past three years while he consistently blocked and slowed the production of American-made energy. From his drilling moratorium to his denial of the Keystone [XL] pipeline, the president has time and again sided with his liberal base over American families," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (Ohio).
Likewise, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was equally critical, saying in a statement that "the president's comments today simply reflect the same old empty promises we've come to expect from this White House. ... This White House has shown that it is more focused on appeasing its extreme environmentalist allies than putting forward an energy policy that works for Utahns and Americans everywhere. With gas prices and home heating costs on the rise, the American people deserve action, not more campaign speeches."