Reluctant Republicans 'swoon' over Obama after stimulus pitch
Update: Boehner tells press he thinks Obama was sincere in wanting to find common ground and wanting to hear ideas
President Barack Obama put his vow to govern without partisan rancor on the line Tuesday, after holding exclusive talks with increasingly truculent Republican lawmakers about his massive stimulus plan.
And strangely enough, Congressional Republicans are aflutter over the "respect" being shown to them by President Obama, even as they continue to criticize the economic stimulus plan.
"If [the] President carries this on it does open door for a new tone!" wrote Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) on his Twitter page as the negotiations progressed.
"Swooning," said The Hill of the unexpected outpouring of GOP appreciation.
"The statistics every day underscore the urgency of the economic situation, and the American people expect action," said President Obama between mettings with House and Senate Republicans, as quoted by the Associated Press. "I don't expect 100 percent agreement from my Republican colleagues, but I do hope we can put politics aside."
But it's what leaked out on the edges of the mainstream press that might best explain the surprised reaction from Republicans.
"I will be judged by the legacy I have left behind," an unnamed source cited Obama as saying, in a post by US News and World Report's Washington Whispers blog. "I don't want to leave our children with a legacy of debt. I am inheriting an annual yearly debt of over $1 trillion.'"
Other tipsters told Whispers:
- "Obama said the he would 'like not to have to spend the stimulus money.'"
- "He also said that he has 'no interest in increasing government just to increase the size of government.'"
- On GOP complaints, "he said that 'there will be time to beat him up and a time for politics. He said I understand that and I will watch you on Fox News and feel bad about myself.'"
But Republican leaders in the House of Representatives were set to spurn his effort to unite fractious party divides and told their members to vote against the massive bill on Wednesday, complaining Democrats had snubbed their ideas.
Obama motorcaded through snowy Washington to Capitol Hill, hoping to reconcile Republican demands for more tax cuts and less spending with a Democratic bill which prioritizes infrastructure investment.
He said he recognized "legitimate" Republican gripes with his approach but argued waves of jobs losses and punishing economic news dictated urgent action and not political gamesmanship.
His visit, one week after his historic inauguration came amid rising gloom in the US and global economy, after more than 70,000 jobs were slashed in a single day on both sides of the Atlantic on Monday.
The president is warning that any delay to the package, designed to create or save three to four million jobs, could be devastating and hopes the House will act Wednesday to allow the Senate endorse the bill before mid-February.
Hours ahead of the meeting, top Republicans called on the president to incorporate their ideas into the House version of the plan.
"Help us make this plan better, so that it will put Americans back to work," House Republican Minority Leader John Boehner said.
Republican House number three Mike Pence appealed to Obama's bipartisan instincts.
"Today, House Republicans will take our case directly to President Obama, will urge him to make good on his pledge to set aside partisan differences and bring the best ideas of both parties to bear on this time of economic crisis."
Obama was first expected to meet House Republicans on Tuesday and an aide said he would likely make remarks to the press before heading to the Senate, where he served for four years as a senator from Illinois.
The president is hoping for thumping congressional majorities for the stimulus, the first big test of his presidency, to give him a spurt of momentum for other priorities and to make good on his vow to be a bipartisan leader.
Republicans and Democrats are squabbling over various analyses by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office over how quickly the funds will be dispersed under the stimulus plan.
Republicans are also highlighting millions of dollars under the plan to renovate Washington's National Mall, for contraceptives provided by states under various health plans and other so-called "pork barrel" projects.
Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that the president was not going to Capitol Hill to negotiate but to hear the ideas of the opposition party on his plan, a mix of tax cuts and massive infrastructure programs.
"If there are good ideas -- and I think he assumes there will be ... We will look at those ideas; that those ideas will go through a process in Congress," Gibbs said.
Republicans, in the minority in the House and the Senate, are using the debate over the stimulus package as a first attempt to test the new president's authority to rebuild morale in their demoralized party.
After the encounter Republican leaders, who are using the stimulus to test the new president's leverage and rebuild their shattered morale, thanked Obama for reaching out, but there was little sign of agreement.
Boehner said Obama offered to find "common ground where we could," and was "sincere" but said there were clearly differences on the legislation, though lawmakers and House Republicans would carry on working together to improve it.
Representative Mike Pence, the number three House Republican, said the talks were "cordial, substantive, and vigorous" but slammed the bill.
"The only thing it will stimulate is more government and more debt. And the president heard that message today," said Pence.
Republicans lack the votes to defeat the stimulus bill on their own, but could slow its progress, especially in the Senate.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has expressed impatience with Republican objections, telling ABC Sunday: "Because the Republicans don't vote for it doesn't mean they didn't have an opportunity to (speak out)."
And House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer last week stressed that the package includes 275 billion dollars in tax cuts and warned Republicans: "This will probably be the largest tax cut they will get to vote for over the next 24 months. They ought to grab it."
The debate over the stimulus comes as the House is set to consider giving Obama the second tranche of a 700-billion-dollar "Troubled Asset Relief Program" (TARP), for the crippled finance industry.
There is a growing expectation that given the depth of the crisis in the banking industry, he may be forced to go back to Congress to ask for another massive cash injection.
The House of Representatives was expected to vote Wednesday on the stimulus, with the Senate set to follow later with Obama pushing for a bill to be on his desk to sign before February 16.
This video is from MSNBC's News Live, broadcast Jan. 27, 2009.
Download video via RawReplay.com
Ron Brynaert, David Edwards and Stephen C. Webster contributed to this report.
(with wire reports)