President Barack Obama feasted on barbecue Tuesday with four people who wrote him letters in a trip to highlight the struggles of working families in American's heartland, as the clock ticked on pressing issues before Congress goes on summer break.
Obama's dinner at Arthur Bryant's, a Kansas City self-serve barbecue joint, comes roughly 48 hours before Congress is set to go on a five-week break. He planned to criticize Congress for its inaction in a speech Wednesday at the historic Uptown Theater, the latest in a series of trips to spread the message in the midterm election year.
Before lawmakers leave town, the White House is pressing lawmakers to approve an overhaul of the Veterans Affairs health care system and funding to deal with an influx of children streaming in across the southern border. Obama aides said Obama planned to criticize House Republicans for using their time working on a potential lawsuit over executive action he's taken and suggest instead they should work on closing corporate tax loopholes.
Leading Republicans, meanwhile, have criticized Obama for spending his time raising campaign cash instead of negotiating on complex problems.
"The president just wants to sit back and play politics," incoming House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana said on "Fox News Sunday." ''He's flying around the country doing fundraisers. He doesn't have time to sit down and work with Congress."
Unlike other travel across the country in recent weeks, Obama didn't schedule any political fundraisers while overnighting in Kansas City for the dinner and a speech. Obama's chief spokesman, Josh Earnest, is a Kansas City native, and called four Obama letter writers from his hometown Monday to invite them to dine with the president.
The White House promoted an online video of Earnest surprising the letter writers with the invitation. His Kansas City Royals banner was prominent in the background of his West Wing office.
Obama ordered a half slab of ribs, beans, lard-cooked fries and a Bud Light but was disappointed to hear the cole slaw was sold out. "You didn't save any for me?" he teased the cashier.
Before sitting down to eat, he greeted a fast-pitch softball team in for a tournament from Glenview, Illinois, outside his hometown of Chicago, and a group from the Game Show Network in town from Los Angeles for a cable convention. They told him they were promoting "The American Bible Show," and he promised to tune in from the White House.
The White House said the Kansas City letter writers included a man who thanked Obama for student loan help he received, a single mother who described her challenges raising children and running a business, a teacher in a GED program and a woman who is active in her neighborhood association.
Obama told them he gets many letters, some telling him that he's a terrible president, but that most are like theirs, adding: "It's people telling their stories."