July 30, 2014 / 4:13 AM / 5 years ago

Table for five: Obama gets barbecue with Kansas City penpals

KANSAS CITY Mo (Reuters) - Valerie McCaw, a single mom who owns a small engineering firm and has a son in college, emailed President Barack Obama last week “in the middle of the night,” describing how she works seven days a week and still struggles to pay the bills.

On Tuesday, she had the chance to tell Obama in person as one of four people the president dined with in a visit to her midwestern city - part of a summertime White House campaign to rouse Democratic voters ahead of November midterm elections.

For Obama - who slapped new economic sanctions on Russia shortly before jetting out of Washington - the trip is also a chance to get out of the gridlocked capitol.

Away from dealing with international crises with no easy solutions, he loosened his tie, rolled up his shirtsleeves and talked to people who he says remind him of why he ran for office.

This being Kansas City, they had barbecue, chatting above the din of a girls’ softball team, families, tourists, and a televised poker tournament at Arthur Bryant’s, where the white stucco walls are plastered with photos of former presidents and old movie stars who have eaten at one of the city’s prized smokeholes.

Through the unpretentious sliding glass windows, Obama ordered a half-slab of ribs and some fries, a bottled water and a Bud Lite before shaking hands with star-struck diners.

“You’re so handsome!” exclaimed Dale Hopkins, in town for a convention from Los Angeles, where she works for the Game Show Network. “The first lady’s so lucky!”

Obama has crisscrossed the country for the past month dining with ordinary Americans who have written him with their concerns about the economy.

The visits are designed to motivate Democrats to vote in the November elections, when Republicans stand a good chance of taking control of the Senate and are expected to keep control of the House of Representatives.

If that happens, Obama will have a hard time advancing his legislative goals during his last two years in office.

Obama already has had to refocus his ambitions on a series of mostly modest executive actions to try to work on his agenda.

Republicans in the House of Representatives are expected to approve a lawsuit against him, arguing he overstepped his authority.

Obama is expected to blast them in a speech from Kansas City on Wednesday, when he will “address this political stunt head on,” a White House official said.

Congress is slated to break this week for its month-long summer recess without reaching an agreement on Obama’s request for emergency funds to address his top domestic crisis - grappling with a flood of migrant children from Central America streaming across the border.

Editing by Paul Tait

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