PAPILLON, NEBRASKA – President Barack Obama visited with a young family in the living room of their suburban house in Nebraska on Wednesday, the first stop on what the White House said would be a year-long tour to talk with Americans about fixing the nation’s polarized politics.
His trip to Nebraska, a Republican “red state,” is meant to help promote the big-picture ideas he laid out in his final State of the Union speech on Tuesday.
Obama said in his speech that he regretted that politics have become more polarized during his time in office and that average Americans feel “the system is rigged” against them.
Obama spent 40 minutes visiting with Lisa Martin, who sent him a letter last year that was written at 4 a.m. when she was awake feeding her son, Cooper, in which she described her “sinking feeling of dread and sadness” about climate change.
“Will he be able to experience the small things, such as winter in Nebraska, where he has snow days and sledding?” Martin wrote, expressing feelings of powerlessness.
Obama was slated to deliver remarks to a large crowd in a hockey rink in Omaha later on Wednesday before flying to Baton Rouge, Louisiana — another red state — where he will do a town hall on Thursday.
He has said he hopes to work with the Republican-led Congress on a few issues where there is common ground in his final year: criminal justice reform, passing a sweeping Asian trade deal, and addressing heroin addiction and poverty.
But there are a host of issues where Congress does not support him, like curbing climate change.
And the race to succeed him ahead of the Nov. 8 presidential election has already overshadowed Obama’s push to cement his legacy.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest acknowledged that the visit to Nebraska — next door to Iowa, the critical early-voting state — had “appealing side benefits.”
“I don’t know how much of an impact it will have on the ongoing political debate across the river,” Earnest told reporters traveling with Obama on Air Force One.
“The president wanted to travel to a state that demonstrated his commitment to talking to people other than just his supporters,” Earnest said.