by Valerie Verkamp
For the second time in less than a year, President Barack Obama arrived in the Kansas City area intent on voicing a message to the American people, especially those elected to serve in Congress.
Obama spoke at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City last Wednesday morning, and in a surprise move, stopped in Parkville on his way back to KCI. More on that toward the end of this story and in an accompanying article.
At a pivotal time in Washington, President Obama urged Congress to act before their month long recess.
During his overnight stay in the Heartland, President Obama spent time meeting with local citizens and learning about their real-life struggles. Linda Veskal was among those personally invited to the Uptown Theater by President Obama after submitting a letter to the president describing the frustration she felt for earning less than her male counterparts who were completing the exact same work.
Her sister, Paula Veskal of Overland Park, said Linda had been a “victim of that for quite a while.”
Linda wrote a letter late one night explaining that despite long hours, challenging work, and total dedication; she was not receiving a wage equivalent to her male co-workers who were completing the very same tasks. Like those before her, Linda said it just isn't right.
On Wednesday, Linda and her two sisters listened intently as the president spoke at the iconic theater.
Obama clearly indicated the fight for equal pay is not over, despite efforts from Republicans in Congress, who “keep-blocking or voting down just about every idea that would have some of the biggest impact on middle-class and working-class families.”
“They've said no to fair pay, making sure that women have the ability to make sure that they're getting paid the same as men for doing the same job.
“So when Congress failed to pass equal pay legislation, I made sure that women got more protection in their fight for fair pay in the workplace, because I think that when women succeed, everybody succeeds. I want my daughters paid the same as your sons for doing the same job,” said Obama.
Obama criticized the Republicans in Congress for voting against raising the minimum wage, which he said has stayed the same for five years despite an increased cost of living. Obama said he has been working with governors and mayors, as well as a few companies, on ways to increase the pay of working class Americans. Obama has demanded employers seeking a federal contract to pay their workers a minimum of $10.10 an hour.
Obama also criticized the Republicans in Congress for voting “to give another massive tax cut to the wealthiest Americans” and “pushing to gut the rules that we put in place after the financial crisis to make sure big banks and credit card companies wouldn't take advantage of consumers or cause another crisis.”
Obama said that such actions hurt millions of Americans.
“Instead of tax breaks for folks who don't need them, let's give tax breaks to working families to help them pay for child care and college. Don't reward companies shipping jobs overseas; let's give tax breaks to companies investing right here in Missouri, right here in the Midwest. Let's give every citizen access to preschool and college and affordable health care,” said Obama.
In the remaining hours Congress is in session, President Obama said “the main vote that they've scheduled for today is whether or not they decide to sue me for doing my job.”
He explained the civil lawsuit against him is for “taking executive actions to help people. So they're mad because I'm doing my job. And, by the way, I've told them—I said I'd be happy to do it with you. So the only reason I'm doing it on my own is because you don't do anything. But if you want, let's work together,” said President Obama.
Obama said American taxpayers will foot the bill for the lawsuit, which he calls a “political stunt.”
“It's estimated that by the time the thing was done, I would have already left office. So it's not a productive thing to do.”
Obama indicated a more constructive use of Congress’s time would be spent on helping the American people rather than costly litigation.
“We've still got a chance to put people to work rebuilding roads and bridges. And the Highway Trust Fund is running out of money; we’ve got to get that done. We've got to get some resources to fight wildfires out west. That's a serious situation. We need more resources to deal with the situation in the southern part of the border with some of those kids. We’ve got to be able to deal with that in a proper way,” he said.
Obama also spent time praising the American people. He said the economy continues to grow at a “strong pace” with the addition of about “10 million new jobs over the past 52 months.”
“The unemployment rate is at its lowest point since September of 2008. It has dropped faster than any time in 30 years,” said Obama.
This is no accident, he said: "It's thanks to the resilience and resolve of the American people. It's also thanks to some decisions that we made early on. And now America has recovered faster and come farther than just about any other advanced country on Earth,” he remarked.
Looking ahead, Obama said he relies on Americans to best determine the condition of the economy.
“What I really want is somebody who has worked for 20, 30 years being able to retire with some dignity and some respect,” said Obama. “What I really want is a family that they have the capacity to save so that when their child is ready to go to college, they know they can help and that it's affordable, and that that child is not going to be burdened down with debt. That's the measure of whether the economy is working; not just how well it's doing overall, but is it doing well for ordinary folks who are working hard every single day and aren't always getting a fair shot. That's what we're fighting for. That's why I ran for President. That's what I'm focused on every day.”
Following the presidential speech, the crowd of roughly 1,000 applauded.
“I just enjoyed it thoroughly,” said Paula Veskal of Overland Park.
President Obama's trip to Kansas City came as a surprise to many in the Greater Kansas City area. Although extensive last minute arrangements were necessary for his one night trip to Kansas City, local businesses did their best to host the prestigious guest.
For several days, an airport hotel in Platte County provided more than 40 hotel rooms to accommodate those assisting the president. However, Obama and at least 150 other government employees stayed at the Crowne Plaza in Downtown Kansas City, which is slightly closer to where he later addressed the American people.
Following his 30-minute speech, President Obama made an unanticipated 50-minute stop in Parkville before departing Kansas City.
President Obama spent time on Main Street mingling with local citizens and shop owners.
While visiting the historical downtown Parkville, Obama entered the Parkville Coffeehouse and generously offered to buy each customer inside the shop something to drink.
“Can I get you guys something? It's on me,” offered President Obama.
Despite a recommendation to try peppermint tea, Obama simply ordered an ice tea. “I'm not sure I'm confident enough to order that,” responded Obama regarding the suggestion.
The Coffeehouse patrons' initial hesitation to accept the offer prompted Obama once again to offer to treat the customers in the shop to anything of their liking.
“It's not that often that a president buys you a cup of coffee,” he said.
Moments later, at least five customers placed an order to refill their beverage.
“Everybody good? Going once, going twice…”
After posing for pictures, Obama left the Coffeehouse and entered Cool Vintage Watches where he shopped for several minutes. While strolling along the east side of Main Street, President Obama was greeted by Parkville Mayor Nan Johnston who was standing near the Parkville Artisans Studio.
“Wow. We're surprised. We're honored. Very exciting,” she said.
Johnston acknowledged that the city of Parkville received just a few minutes warning regarding his visit to downtown Parkville.
Obama also visited the quilt shop Peddlers Wagon where upon entering he said, “Hello, everybody. Good to see you. Smells kind of good in here. Got some candles burning?”
As he took time to admire the handmade quilts, Obama asked about quilts, asking whether the quilts were made in-house. After leaving Peddlers Wagon, President Obama shook hands with several people, including a young man who told the President he is passionate about basketball and serves as a point guard on his basketball team. “I've got to see your shot,” said Obama.
The time he spent in Parkville went well beyond what his aides allotted.
“I'm trying to delay this as long as possible because I'm having fun,” Obama said before boarding Air Force One at the Kansas City International Airport.
Immediately after leaving Parkville, Obama boarded Air Force One at KCI, bound for Washington with Congressman Emanuel Cleaver also on board.