Despite testy exchanges, GOPs applaud Obama for meeting with them at retreat

BALTIMORE -- House Republican leaders largely praised President Barack Obama after they engaged in a testy 90-minute exchange with the commander-in-chief on Friday.

Like a boxer after a slugfest, GOP officials expressed respect for the president for being straightforward with them.

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But it's unclear whether the meeting, or Obama's pledge to hold monthly meetings with the minority, will overcome deep partisan divides that have left both sides mistrustful of the other's intentions.

House GOP lawmakers left their meeting with Obama torn between hopeless frustration and renewed pride on Friday.

On one hand, they disagreed with many of Obama's claims. On the other, they believe they made a step toward shedding the "party of no" label.

Despite the “lecture” by the commander-in-chief, as one member described it, Republicans had the opportunity to articulate the proposals they've sent to the president over the past year.

And for the first time, Obama acknowledged that House Republicans had crafted measures to stimulate the economy, reduce the budget deficit and reduce health insurance costs.

At a number of times during the rare, televised, question and answer session with members, the president said that he had read many of their proposals.

“I’ve actually read your bills,” the president said to a packed banquet room at Baltimore’s Marriott Renaissance hotel.

That doesn't mean he is ready to endorse them. When Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) criticized the president for ignoring his caucus' healthcare plan, Obama replied that document -- which he said he supported, in principle -- failed to pass a "test of realism."

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters following the lengthy meeting that it “went well.”

"For Republicans, at least one important goal was achieved: it got President Obama to acknowledge repeatedly on national TV that Republicans have in fact offered detailed alternatives on all of the big issues, flatly contradicting a fundamental White House talking point of the past year,” a GOP aide explained.

Whether the president was able to smooth over simmering frustrations that Republicans has been cut out of the negotiating process during the first year of his presidency remains to be seen, however.

Obama did not pull any punches.

"If you were to listen to the debate and frankly how some of you went after this bill, you would think it is some sort of Bolshevik product," he said about the health bill, in reference to Republicans' rhetoric.

Rep. Pete Roskam (R-Ill.), who served with the president in the Illinois State Senate, said that Obama was known in those days for an ability to reach across the aisle, but added that times have changed.

“You've gotten the subtext of House Republicans that sincerely want to come and be a part of this national conversation toward solutions, but they've really been stiff-armed by Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.]. Now, I know you're not in charge of that chamber, but there really is this dynamic of, frankly, being shut out,” Roskam said.

Obama admitted that he had not done enough to encourage Democratic congressional leaders to reach out for GOP input. It is a problem that he is attempting to rectify with regular monthly bipartisan leadership meetings at the White House.

“What I can do maybe to help is to try to bring Republican and Democratic leadership together on a more regular basis with me. That's, I think, a failure on my part is to try to foster better communications, even if there's disagreement. And -- and I will try to see if we can do more of that this year,” Obama said.

Back in Washington, D.C. however, House Democrats cried foul to allegations that they’ve cut their GOP colleagues out of the legislating process, according to a Democratic leadership aide.

Pelosi is set to meet with Boehner next week. The meeting was scheduled prior to the GOP retreat.

“Republican leaders continue to complain about the absence of bipartisanship, but they are ignoring some of the facts: More than 100 Republican-sponsored bills passed the House (many with unanimous support) and many other major bills received Republican support. However, all you hear from Republicans is their opposition to the Recovery Act (which included jobs and middle class tax cuts), health insurance reform and Wall Street reform,” Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said in a statement late Friday.

Overall, GOP lawmakers seemed to appreciate their time with the president.

Eight lawmakers had the opportunity to ask questions of the president during the session that went 30 minutes longer than the hour initially scheduled by the White House.

Though the conversation grew testy at times, lawmakers were impressed by the president’s willingness to extend his stay with them.

At the start of his presentation to roughly 100 Republican lawmakers and their families and guests, it seemed that Obama would spend more time giving opening remarks than taking questions.

"He rectified that by staying much longer than any of us anticipated, I was impressed that he would stay longer and allow a broader array of questions,” Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) said.

One lawmaker surmised that though Obama came out swinging, it was an important step to take given the political likelihood that Democrats will lose seats in the mid-term election.

Former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) said, “If he wants to get things done, he’s going to have to [include Republicans in the discussions]. Look, he’s got, today, the maximum number of Democrats he will ever have... [He’d] better set up the negotiating mechanism now because it’s going to get harder, it’s not going to get easier.”


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