President Barack Obama arrived in Springfield on Wednesday morning prepared to make history, becoming the fourth U.S. president to address the Illinois General Assembly.
Nine years ago was Obama’s last time in Springfield for the frigid February announcement of his candidacy for president. Springfield was just as bitter cold for his arrival Wednesday as it was then, but the welcome for the president was warm.
"It's great to see so many old friends," Obama said at the start of his address to a standing ovation. "I missed you guys."
Obama spoke on unity and bipartisanship before a body in Illinois that has been criticized for exhibiting neither characteristic.
The address comes amid a historic state budget impasse in Illinois, something the president did not ignore in his speech.
"When I hear voices in either party boast of their refusal to compromise as an accomplishment in and of itself, I’m not impressed," Obama said. "All that does is prevent what most Americans would consider actual accomplishments, like fixing roads, educating kids, passing budgets, cleaning our environment, making our streets safe."
The nod to the budget crisis in Springfield received standing ovation from many in the crowd.
Most of Obama's speech centered around what he called "better politics" and the need to fix the "poisonous political climate that pushes people away from participating."
He continuously emphasized the need for compromise between parties.
"In a big complicated democracy like ours if we can’t compromise, by definition we can’t govern ourselves," he said, noting that "trying to find common ground doesn't make me less of a Democrat or less of a Progressive."
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Obama accepts that his call for better politics will be hard.
"It is a lot easier to be cynical than to accept that change is possible," he said. "The president will again call on a politics of hard-won hope."
Rauner said in a statement before the speech he looked forward to "hearing (Obama) speak about finding common ground between Republicans and Democrats."
"Despite our political differences, the President and I share a passion for improving education, especially for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, a belief in the benefits of term limits and redistricting reform for restoring good government, and a strong desire to see more economic opportunity for all Illinoisans," Rauner said. "I know we can achieve great things for Illinois by having mutual respect for one another and focusing on bipartisan compromise to achieve what’s best for the long-term future of our great state.”
Still, Rauner and other Republicans did not stand when Obama spoke of how collective bargaining is critical to the middle class.
It has been nearly four decades since a president made such an address in Illinois, the last time being when Jimmy Carter spoke to the state’s lawmaking body in 1978. The difference in Obama’s visit is that he is the first president to have served in the General Assembly and also address them.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin stood with Obama in Springfield when he announced his historic run for president and arrived with the president as he landed in Springfield.
“Working together, we can accomplish great things," Durbin said in a statement. "The promise of hope and change that President Obama brought to Springfield back in 2007 can only become a reality if we are willing to compromise and find common ground.”