Obama made the case that encouraging policies and business practices that support women are good for the country as a whole. "When women succeed, America succeeds, and we need leaders who understand that," he said at Rhode Island College.
The policy proposals that he laid out are all at the heart of the Democratic agenda: paid family leave, equal pay for women, more support for childcare and pre-K programs, and increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. He also alluded to reproductive rights, advocating for women's ability "to make their own healthcare choices."
But Obama avoided casting such policies in a partisan light or in terms of the upcoming election. Instead, he stressed that the issues "shouldn't be partisan" and that "Republicans and Democrats should be supporters of all these issues."
Instead, he took a more moderate approach to the issue, emphasizing that such policies would actually help businesses. Rhode Island is one of the few states to require all businesses to offer paid family leave, which Obama said has helped local companies "do a better job recruiting and retaining outstanding employees," he said. He also mentioned a recent trip Labor Secretary Tom Perez took to Europe, where Perez met with conservatives and business leaders who all supported paid family leave.
Obama has kept an arm's length from the midterms as his approval ratings have plummeted nationally and ordinary Americans remained glum about the state of the economy. Earlier in his speech, Obama made his standard case for the state of affairs: He argued that the economy had made substantial progress since the worst of the recession — "it's been steady and it's been real" — but that those gains weren't being felt by ordinary Americans, in part because of larger structural forces that were dragging down the economy well before the financial crisis.
"We’ve got to harness the momentum we’re seeing in the broader economy to make sure the economy is working for ordinary Americans," Obama said.
And Rhode Island is certainly one of the places that could use a boost: Unemployment is at 7.7%, compared to 5.9% nationally, making it a state with among the highest jobless rates in the country.