Obama notebook: 'Rural' part of rural tour limited to answers
CANNON FALLS, Minn. -- The "rural" part of President Obama's rural economy bus tour was pretty much limited to his answers to audience questions during his Cannon Falls stop Monday.
Obama's prepared remarks focused on blaming Republicans for not compromising, but did not touch on what White House officials has promised would be a bus tour dealing with the rural economy.
But the opening question, by 19-year-old Cecelia Findorff got "rural" into the rural tour when she asked about renewable energy.
The president said he asked the Defense Department to look into using biofuels, such as those made from corn and soybeans. The federal government's "incredible purchasing power" should help the cause, he said.
"The Department of Defense uses a lot of fuel, so the question is, can we get trucks and Jeeps and, in some cases, even fighter jets running on alternative fuels, which is important for our national security but also could provide an incredible boost to communities all across Minnesota, all across the country?" he said.
Obama said that he continues to work to make sure 98 percent of the country is served by broadband Internet service, as well as mobile phone service.
"What that means is, if there's a small business in Cannon Falls that's got a great idea, you don't have to just confine your market to Cannon Falls; you can start selling in Rochester, and then you start selling in Des Moines, and then you start selling in New York and maybe you start selling something in Paris," Obama said.
State Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, may hold a different political stance than Democrat Obama, but that doesn't mean he wasn't excited to hear him speak in Cannon Falls.
"It's an honor and a privilege that the president has selected my district," Howe said.
In a five-minute meeting with Obama, Howe said he asked for a blue-ribbon panel to study nuclear waste storage. As former Red Wing mayor, Howe dealt with that issue from the nearby nuclear power plant for years.
Prior to the president's speech, Howe said he thought most people would be interested in hearing him talk about tax reform.
"But I also hope the president is coming to listen to rural America," Howe added.
And that's exactly what Obama did, spending a majority of his time at the event holding a question-and-answer session and hearing from all different ages in the crowd.
Howe said Obama brought a lot of energy to his state Senate district.
On a day when Hi Quality Bakery in Cannon Falls is typically closed, the place ended up selling every patriotic cookie on its shelves Monday.
"We emptied out every cut-out cookie we had," owner Julie Disch said.
The cookies had an edible image of a flag laid on them. Each one read, "One nation working together."
Originally, they had been square-shaped to resemble a flag, but when those flew off the shelf, the bakery replaced them with circular cookies, and eventually hearts and butterflies -- all of which were purchased by the early afternoon.
The edible images were also put on cupcakes, and some of the everyday treats received a patriotic touch.
"Anything that would have sprinkles, we put sprinkles on in red, white and blue," Disch said.
The bakery is regularly closed Mondays but was opened today for the special occasion, and had a visit from the Secret Service not even 15 minutes after opening.
"They all got their coffee and doughnuts," Disch said.
A small piece of masking tape might be doing the most significant job a piece of tape has ever done.
It's marking the chair that Obama sat in while he stopped for lunch at the Old Market Deli in Cannon Falls. Hungry visitors following his stop have been excited to get a seat in the now-famous chair.
Before the president's arrival, his meal was already prepared and waiting for him. He escaped the hot weather with an iced tea, and his staff ordered him the "Tom Turkey" sandwich, loaded with smoked turkey, white cheddar cheese, avocado, sprouts, roasted red pepper and garlic mayonnaise. And he didn't dine alone.
"He ate with five war veterans," server Danielle Anderson said she learned from the Secret Service.
The White House said he dined with the veterans to show his support to rural veterans and military families.
No Congress now
Obama says some people ask him why he does not call Congress back to Washington to continue work, instead of allowing it to take its traditional summer break.
"I don't think it's going to make people feel real encouraged if we have Congress come back and all they're doing is arguing again," said Obama, who plans to begin his own vacation later this week. "So what they need to do is come to Cannon Falls, they need to come to -- they need to go back to their districts, talk to ordinary folks, find out how frustrated they are, and hopefully, when they get back in September, they're going to have a new attitude."
While many people struggled to get a good view when Obama as he came into Hannah's Bend Park, one man had no trouble at all seeing the politician he admires.
Igor Vovkovinskiy stands 7 feet 8 inches tall, so even from the back row, he could get a good glimpse of the president. The Rochester man wore a T-shirt declaring himself the "World's Biggest Obama Supporter," and he stands by the slogan.
Hannah's Bend Park in Cannon Falls is about as good a setting for a presidential visit as there is.
It is nestled along the quiet Cannon River, with black walnut and elm trees providing shade.
"Well, what a spectacular setting," Obama said as he started his outdoor town hall meeting at noon. "Let's get the grill going. And do a little fishing?"
Nine-year-old Vanessa Peer asked Obama the question on seemingly every local resident's mind Monday: Why Cannon Falls?
"I had heard that Cannon Falls has some of the smartest, best-looking kids around, and you have confirmed the rumor of the outstanding kids of Cannon Falls," the president said to rousing applause.
That exchange closed Obama's appearance in this community of 4,000 residents. He deliberately chose a child to ask the final question, he told the crowd before having her speak, explaining that America should always look to the next generation.
"I thought it was great," the Cannon Falls girl said. "I can tell my children and they can tell their children."
This report includes contributions by Regan Carstensen, Danielle Nordine, Sarah Gorvin and Anne Jacobson of the Red Wing Republican Eagle and Don Davis of the Forum Communications Co. state Capitol bureau.