Obama Meets Privately With Party Leaders

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama was on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, courting leaders of his party in a closed door meeting.

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

Now some campaign news. In Washington yesterday, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama met behind closed doors with congressional Democrats. The nearly hour-long session was equal parts pep rally and call to action. So it's not surprising that participants said Obama was greeted with a standing ovation as he talked about a range of issues and the campaign. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: In case there was any doubt, House Democrats are very excited to have Barack Obama at the top of their ticket this fall. Perhaps none more so than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who acted as head cheerleader in last night's meeting, leading Democrats in a chant of Yes We Can, Obama's unofficial slogan. Pelosi gave this read-out of the session.

House Speaker NANCY PELOSI (California, Democrat): It was a meeting distinguished by enthusiasm for our candidate, unity among the Democrats, and excitement about the ideas that Senator Obama is putting forth.

NAYLOR: Obama spoke briefly as young congressional aides took snapshots and others strained to catch a glimpse of the Illinois senator. He said if voters understand the Democrats' vision - not for larger government but for a more responsive and honest government - this might be what he called an incredible election. He said voters could elect a Democratic president and expand Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Illinois, Democrat, Presidential Candidate): I'm looking forward to hitting the campaign trail hard. I'm going to be looking forward to campaigning next to Congress - members of the House Democrat caucus all across the country. And if we do what I know is possible, then I think we can shake up Washington and actually deliver for the American people. And that's an exciting prospect.

NAYLOR: Participants said Obama spoke on a variety of topics in the private meeting. He touched on his recent trip abroad and America's role in the world. He was questioned about Iran. And he also discussed domestic issues: the economy, energy, even the recent floods in Iowa. He was interrupted by applause several times.

Afterwards, Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro said Obama issued what she called a real ask, an appeal for their help.

Representative ROSA DELAURO (Connecticut, Democrat): He was very, very clear in saying that, you know, know one gives up power easily and that it's tough. He recognized it's going to be difficult. He believes we will win seats in the House, we'll win seats in the Senate, and that he can't do it without our help.

NAYLOR: While Obama wants congressional Democrats to campaign for him and with him, in some districts he's unlikely to be welcomed with open arms. Florida Democrat Allen Boyd is co-chairman of the Blue Dog caucus of conservative Democrats, many of whom were elected in districts that voted for President Bush.

Representative ALLEN BOYD (Florida, Democrat): Most of the Blue Dogs represent districts that are what we call red districts. And many of them can't take many of the Democratic - wouldn't want - wouldn't choose to take many of the national Democratic leaders into the district. But that's OK. You know, it's all right. All politics is local.

NAYLOR: Earlier in the day, Obama met privately with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, and aides say phoned Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to ask about the housing bill. A statement released by his campaign said Obama believes that the new housing legislation should be used as a way to protect homeowners and not bail out shareholders or managers. Neither he nor his Republican opponent, John McCain, was present when the Senate approved the measure last Saturday.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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