(CBS) President Obama told his strongest supporters that while "things have changed for the better... now we've got to keep the momentum going."
He spoke Monday night to a Washington, D.C., gathering of volunteers with Organizing for Action (OFA), the group that was formed from his 2012 re-election campaign to promote his agenda.
Joined by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the president previewed a series of economic speeches he's set to deliver, beginning on Wednesday in Galesburg, Ill., telling the crowd that it's time to refocus the debate in Washington on fiscal matters "and the struggles of middle-class families."
During his stops in Illinois, Warrensburg, Mo., and Jacksonville, Fla., he said he'll talk about how "we need to put behind us the distractions and the phony debates and nonsense that somehow passes for politics these days and get back to basics."
"It'll be a pretty good speech," he said, "but as we've learned, I've given some pretty good speeches before and things still get stuck here in Washington - which is why I'm going to need your help."Lawmakers in barely a week will fan out across the country, returning to their home districts for the annual summer break. At town hall meetings and picnics and public events, they'll hear firsthand from constituents - most of whom, polls show, have had it with Washington and incessant partisan fighting.
With a tough path ahead for Mr. Obama's major goals - including an immigration overhaul, the economy and the rollout of his health care law - his supporters want to ensure that lawmakers of both parties return to Washington with a mandate to work with Mr. Obama. So, OFA, with a presidential assist, is seeking to get activists energized and ready to speak up.
But the proactive rallying of the party faithful may also be an attempt to pre-empt what Democrats anticipate will be a concerted effort by conservatives to show lawmakers they want Mr. Obama's agenda stopped in its tracks - and that they'll punish those who go along with his proposals in the next election.
After all, it was during the same period in Mr. Obama's first term when a burgeoning tea party, incensed by Mr. Obama's health care proposals, showed up in full force at town halls in 2009. A year later, Mr. Obama's party lost control of the House and hemorrhaged seats in the Senate, dealing a major blow to Mr. Obama's agenda in what the president described as a "shellacking."
Republicans said Obama's time would be better spent finding a way to work with Congress rather than reverting to campaign tactics to knock Republicans. They questioned his support for OFA, which competes with the Democratic Party for fundraising dollars.
"The president needs help spinning Americans during August recess because his speeches haven't started hiring," said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski. "And once again the president is putting himself and his legacy over the future of the Democrat Party."
Democrats are trying to build momentum on issues like an immigration overhaul, which cleared the Senate but faces an uncertain future in the House; expanded gun background checks, which are stalled in Congress; and measures to curb climate change, which the president outlined last month.
And Obama is working to implement complex elements of his health care law despite continued resistance from Republicans and headaches over delays and glitches.
Earlier Monday, the president stopped by a private White House meeting with celebrities including singer Jennifer Hudson and actors Amy Poehler, Michael Cera and Kal Penn.
The White House says the artists expressed interest in helping spread the word about the health insurance marketplaces opening Oct. 1.