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Obama Offers Fiery Speech to Congressional Black Caucus, But Faces Challenge to Deliver

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Saturday: President Obama, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., civil rights leader Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, first lady Michelle Obama, and CBC Foundation Chairman Rep. Donald M. Payne, D-N.J., stand on-stage during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Foundation Annual Phoenix Awards in Washington.AP

President Obama won accolades from supporters praising his speech to the Congressional Black Caucus Saturday night, but not everyone is convinced the president is invested in his recommitment to fighting Republicans and helping minority communities. 

"I don't think that the president is leading from a place of compassion. I think he's leading from a place of fear right now. I don't really understand what is going on," said Erik Todd Dellums, a  blog writer and actor who is the son of former Rep. Ron Dellums, D-Calif., a 13-term black lawmaker who helped pass landmark sanctions to push for an end to South African apartheid.

"The president is in a unique place and I think he's failing himself truly. And I think, race has something to do with this," said Dellums.

Obama's speech to the CBC's Annual Phoenix Awards dinner Saturday night issued a clarion call for blacks who have complained he's not done enough to help African Americans. 

Encouraging the CBC and its supporters to help him pass his latest jobs bill, the president said despite the complaints, he has shepherded many laws that have helped blacks, including Wall Street reforms that offer consumer financial protections; a settlement for black farmers that has been decades in the works; new projects for public housing; expanded health care coverage and more affordable college loans. 

He then urged the audience to follow him into the next battle.

"I expect all of you to march with me and press on. Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying. We are going to press on. We've got work to do, CBC," he said.

The speech, heavy on references to civil rights marches and delivered with a sermon-style, southern affect of dropped 'g's -- as in "complainin'," drew rousing applause and support from the audience.

"So proud of OUR President tonight," tweeted Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla.

"I was at the dinner last night, heard the speech, was in the midst of the crowd, and they gave the president thunderous applause," Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation." "President Obama has appealed to the Congressional Black Caucus and the attendees last night to close ranks, stand behind him, press on to make sure that we can continue to push for things like passage of the American Jobs Act."

But as Obama embarks on a three-day, multi-city tour to the West Coast, opponents say the president's new zeal won't get him reelected or push his jobs plan to fruition.

"Presidential elections are decided by the American people asking themselves the question as to whether or not they're better off today than they were three or four years ago. And here are the facts: Unemployment is at 9.1 percent. We've added $4 trillion to the national deficit with 2.4 million people are unemployed," said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.

"We have a president that yesterday says to the Congressional Black Caucus take off your slippers, implying that black people with 16.7 percent unemployment are staying home in their slippers. I doubt it. They are all looking for jobs and waiting for the president to come up with a plan," said Cheryln Harley LeBon, a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network and former senior counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Whatever we do now we are not going to have a near-term solution," LeBon told Fox News. 

Fox News contributor Juan Williams said the president, speaking before a black audience, gave it the "red meat" that it wanted, which was to be more aggressive in the fight with Republicans. He suggested Obama not only mouth the words, but take action.

"There is President Obama throwing red meat to the liberal base," Williams said. "And the reason he's doing it is because they are convinced on the left and at the White House right now, I am telling you, that the president has been fooled. He's been suckered. He has tried to negotiate, and run into total obstinacy from the Republicans. ... President Obama feels he has to appeal to independents by showing that he can be bipartisan, and then he comes up looking like, you know what? You've got taken. So, the base wants him to fight."