Peoria Journal Star reporter Chris Kaergard is reporting from President Barack Obama's Illinois tour today.
4:18 p.m. report: President Obama bypassed the first exit to Alpha, making an unscheduled stop shortly after 3 p.m. CDT Wednesday at Galesburg High School to watch the Silver Streaks practice football.
Immediately after getting off the bus, Obama greeted a group of teen girls by the tennis courts, prompting a round of giggles and expressions of "Oh, my God!"
Practice on the football field continued unabated as Obama approached and began chatting with first-year coach Tim Dougherty. Several minutes went by before the coach urged the team, which finished 4-5 last year, to "take a knee" and listen to the president.
"You guys look good out there," Obama praised them ahead of their first scrimmage Friday and their first game next week.
"Everywhere we go, it makes me feel real good to see people working hard, young people who are motivated."
The team laughed when he said he could see how hard they were working and said he offered to the coach that they could use his arrival as "an excuse" to take a breather.
The coach shared with Obama that his mantra for the team is "Win the Day!" -- a chant the team then shared with the president -- who remarked "that's my motto every morning."
He posed for a photo with the team, catching a football partway through the posing tossed to him by the coaching staff. He also urged the students to remember that "football's important, but I hope you guys are hittin' the books, too."
Obama was joined at the stop by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who drove to Atkinson this morning to spend the day traveling with the president. LaHood is a Peoria native.
The president later worked a rope line briefly greeting members of the volleyball team and the district's superintendent. He prompted a series of cheers when he offered to take a picture first with the volleyball team and then with others waiting to meet him.
He then boarded his bus about 4 p.m. CDT while exhorting the athletes to "keep it up! Keep it up!" and then proceeded on to a town hall event in Alpha.
1:36 p.m. report: Obama arrived at first scheduled event, town hall meeting at Wyffels Hybrids, Inc., in Atkinson, just a few minutes late, at 11:43 a.m.
The bus caravan passed a long row of American flags that had been placed earlier this week by townspeople to greet the presidential party. People lined the roads, including schoolchildren in front of the local elementary school. Several signs were visible in the crowd, including “Coal means afforable electricity” and “I skipped Da Bears to see Da Prez.”
En route to event, the motorcade passed a local fire station being rebuilt using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Obama made a callout to that project during his opening remarks, which began approximately 12:02 p.m. He mentioned the project before going on to mention the need for “roads and bridges and schools all across the country.”
He also praised local business Wyffels Hybrids, hosting the event, for “hiring some folks” and expanding. Obama initially mispronounced the Wyffels family name as “waffles” before being loudly corrected by the crowd. No teleprompters were visible throughout the opening remarks, which took place in a warehouse against a backdrop of ballets stacked with bags labeled with the company’s name.
Obama stuck to a central theme apparent over the last few days, proclaiming there is “nothing wrong with our country right now,” but “there is something wrong with our politics.” There were no hostile questions during the event, and Obama’s answers were frequently greeted with light to moderate applause.
“I need you to send a message to folks in Washington: Stop drawing a line in the sand,” Obama said, referring to party politics.
Louann Levine of Geneseo, a local real estate agent, asked Obama about the housing market, which she said was on the rebound locally until the summer began.
“Since the debt ceiling fiasco in Washington, the phones have stopped,” she said. “We have no consumer confidence. … I should be out working 14 hours a day, and I am not.”
Obama talked up loan modification programs before saying that “a lot of this has to do with confidence, as you’ve said.” However, he acknowledged “the federal government is not going to be able to do this all by itself,” but will in fact require consumers, business and government to work together.
“If we get the overall economy moving, if we pass this payroll tax cut, if we get some of these tax credits for business” from last year extended, then consumer confidence, the housing market and the overall economy will improve, he said.
On the debt ceiling debate, Obama said, “I continue to believe we need a balanced approach.”
He added that following the congressional supercommittee’s recommendations for $1.5 trillion in cuts later this year, he intends to make a proposal containing additional deficit reduction beyond the $1.5 trillion. There were several callbacks throughout the introduction and question-and-answer session to remarks he had made over the past few days, including an op-ed piece written by Warren Buffett arguing that the rich should pay higher tax rates.
Jan Lowhouse of Tiskilwa asked about jobs: “What can you do without Congress today” to improve employment opportunities?
Obama promoted “reverse boot camp” to train veterans leaving the military and commitments the government has received from businesses across the country to hire qualified veterans. Obama also listed as a specific item the federal commission looking into burdensome regulations.
“Frankly, we could do more with Congress’ cooperation,” Obama said before asking: “When did building roads become a partisan issue?”
Kelly Wyffels, a student at Western Illinois University and a relative of the Wyffels family hosting the event, asked Obama what he thought the best course of study would be to get a job.
“Everything requires an education,” Obama told her as he praised her course of study in supply-chain management. “I don’t have to tell the farmers here. You’re looking at GPS, you’re studying markets around the world… It’s not just a matter of going out with a plow into the field… Don’t just go to college without having an idea what’s interesting to you.”
Alex McIlvoy, who just turned 11, asked about what Obama could do to keep the local ethanol plant running.
Obama talked up his strong support of biofuels dating back to his time in the Illinois State Senate, but said “the more we see the science,” the greater the effort to diversify biofuels and improve efficiency with ethanol, particularly with the new effort to find methods of creating biofuels without using products coming from the food chain. “There’s no reason we should fall behind a country like Brazil when it comes to developing alternative energy.”
He closed by reminding the crowd, “Don’t bet against America. Don’t bet against our workers, don’t bet agaist our businesses. We have gone through tougher times than this, and we have always come out on top.”
He then reminded them, as at previous stops this week, that “I need your voices out there, talking to folks from both parties and telling them that I need” cooperation across party lines.
11 a.m. report: President Barack Obama left his hotel in Davenport this morning, the Hotel Blackhawk, at about 8:43 a.m. CDT with small crowds dotting the street as his caravan rolled out of town to catch the exodus on camera. Just one sign could be seen among the crowd befroe crossing onto Illinois side of the Mississippi River, "Economy at Barack Bottom."
As motorcade moed along Interstate 80 eastbound, passengers in stopped westbound cars stood outside their vehicles getting photos of the traveling bus.
Motorcade traveled along I-74, I-80 and I-88 before exiting onto Illinois-78 in Whiteside County for an impromptu stop at the Whiteside County Fair in Morrison, Ill., passing along the way several signs for farm fields planted with Wyffels Hybrids corn. Obama is set to hold a town hall meeting at 11:30 CDT at Wyffels in Atkinson.
Gapers stood in doorways and on front porches as the caravan passed through Morrison before arriving at the fair one minute before 10 a.m. CDT. Obama headed off the bus wearing a white button-down shirt with light blue checks and mocha-colored slacks.
He greeted a series of people standing in an exhibit building with pleasantries, "How are you?" "Nice to see you" on this second day of the county fair before heading on to see cows being shown outside the Ed Brandt Dairy Barn, including Ayreshire and brown Swiss cows.
As judging went on behind him, he greeted people who were observing, stopping for several moments to chat with each of them and respond to quiet questions one-on-one. Most were not loud enough to hear from the pool.
Howard Scott, who serves on the county's Fair Board said of Obama's visit, "I think it's great. ... It wouldn't matter whether he was a Democrat or a Republican. I think they need to get out and see the small people."
Obama also posed for pictures with a group of teens and with members of the Fair Board. Between groups, he admitted jokingly to a question from the crowd that he's probably "not the guy to judge" which cattle deserved to win. Of the Fair Board, he asked, "How far ahead do you guys organize" the fair, being told that it's a year-long endeavor.
He then entered the dairy barn for further conversation with people showing their cattle, complimenting several of them that "I'm just impressed you guys are wearing white!"
He emerged about 10:35 CDT to greet people in a rope line at the edge of the fairgrounds, but made a brief detour into the first exhibit building for several moments. Then he worked the rope line for 10-15 minutes of shorter conversation, autographs, and giving at least one sports fan a jokingly hard time: "You have Illini, Bulls, Bears, but Green Bay? That's a whole 'nother state!"