In a public display of bipartisanship, President Obama ventured into the heart of Republican territory today where he told an intensely skeptical audience hostile to most of his policies that he's fed with business as usual in Washington.
The president spoke at the annual retreat of Republican members of the House of Representatives in Baltimore, where he hoped to build on the message of bipartisanship he addressed in his State of the Union Wednesday.
"Yes, I want you to challenge my ideas ... I want you to stand up for your beliefs," Obama told the gathering. "The only thing I don't want ... is for Washington to continue being so Washington-like."
The president was questioned on a whole range of issues, from the economy to health care to North Korea. He stood his ground. Obama charged that Republicans were portraying health care overhaul as a "Bolshevik plot."
"I'm not suggesting that we're going to agree on everything, whether it's on health care or energy or what have you, but if the way these issues are being presented by the Republicans is that this is some wild-eyed plot to impose huge government in every aspect of our lives, what happens is you guys then don't have a lot of room to negotiate with me," the president said. "You've given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you've been telling your constituents is, 'This guy's doing all kinds of crazy stuff that's going to destroy America.'"
At the start of the speech, the GOP leaders presented Obama with a copy of their "Better Solutions" proposals, a 30-page document outlining House Republicans' economic agenda, which the president said he will look through.
Republicans say they are willing to listen to the president but that they are going to stand by their principles.
"Republicans invited the president to our retreat because we want to have a serious conversation with the president about our proposals to get this economy moving again, to lower the cost of health insurance, to achieve energy independence and to put our fiscal house in order," Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., chairman of the House Republican Conference, said on "Good Morning America" this morning. "He's going to hear for quite a while from Republicans about our alternatives."
In his State of the Union address, Obama said he is willing -- even eager -- to hear Republican ideas, a message he has taken on the road.
"I want the Republicans to get off the sidelines," Obama reiterated at an event at the University of Tampa Thursday. "I want them working with us, not to score points. I want a partnership."
Republicans say they are willing to listen to the president but not at the expense of their principles.
"Republicans are going to continue to stand on the principles that we were elected to advance," Pence said. "We're going to remind him that despite the 'party of no' smear of the last year, that we've offered substantive alternatives on every single major issue facing the economy, facing the country."
The president is pushing both Democrats and Republicans to act quickly on the economy and enact measures to boost job growth. But the president's proposal to target tax cuts and spending won't work unless the cuts are put in place across the board, Pence said.
On the economy, Pence said, the Obama administration is "playing a lot of small ball here."