BALTIMORE — House Democrats are heading home from their annual issues retreat energized by a pep talk by President Barack Obama but facing steep odds of reclaiming the majority that delivered Obama his greatest first-term victories.
Obama promised Democrats that the party "will win in November" and chided Republicans for "phony tough talk and bluster" on defeating Islamic militants.
In Baltimore on Thursday evening, Obama said the country is "doing a lot better" than when he took office, citing progress against Islamic State forces and curbing Iran's nuclear program — as well as lower gas prices, 18 million people gaining health insurance and 5 percent unemployment.
In a not-so-veiled shot at GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump, Obama said the U.S. won't strengthen itself "by allowing politicians to insult Muslims or pit groups of Americans against each other."
Obama defended his global leadership against a chorus of GOP attacks from Trump and other presidential candidates. He said the U.S. and a coalition of more than 60 countries continues "to hunt down and destroy ISIL, including with nearly 10,000 air strikes."
"We're not going to build progress with a bunch of phony tough talk and bluster and over-the-top claims that just play into ISIL's hands," Obama said. "That's not keeping America safe."
Obama chided Republicans for opposing him at every turn.
"Sometimes I get a little frustrated that we don't run back the tapes to what Republicans said back then when predicting his policies wouldn't work, Obama said. He noted that his 2012 presidential opponent, Mitt Romney, promised 6 percent unemployment but it has already dropped to 5 percent.
"At each juncture, every single one of the steps we took, they said the opposite. Wanted to go in a different direction, claimed that our policies would crush jobs and destroy the economy," Obama said. "Do people remember that?"
On the upcoming elections, Obama promised that "we will have a Democratic president succeeding me. ... And the reason I can say that with confidence is because we focus on the things that matter in the lives of the American people."
During the closed-door back and forth with lawmakers, according to an aide in the room, Obama defended his administration's deportations of migrants from Central America and said bipartisan action was possible on criminal justice reform and in combating opioid abuse. He promised action on Puerto Rico's fiscal crisis.
Earlier Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden likened the Republican presidential race to a "gift from the Lord" for Democrats trying to win control of the House and Senate.
Democrats say that if Republicans nominate Trump or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, it could be a windfall in their effort to regain control of the House, where their numbers are the lowest since the Truman administration in the late 1940s.
Still, the party faces an uphill battle to recapture capture a House majority. Republicans currently outnumber them 246-188.
Democrats held the House by a substantial majority when Obama took office and were integral to enacting an economic stimulus bill, Obama's health care rewrite and an ambitious overhaul of financial regulations.
On the political front, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California announced Thursday that she raised $40 million for House Democrats last year, including $30.4 million for the campaign committee. A prodigious fundraiser, Pelosi held 205 fundraisers in 35 cities.