WASHINGTON, D.C. - Citing the realities of a divided congress, President Obama today asked the nation's governors to join him in a "breakout year."
The state executives, in town for the National Governors Association's winter meeting, were hosted by the White House for their annual black-tie dinner.
"I look forward to working with each of you, not just in our meetings tomorrow, but throughout this year, what I hope to be a year of action," the president told his guests. "Our partnership on behalf of the American people, on issues ranging from education to healthcare to climate change, run deep, deeper than what usually hits the front page."
The president recalled meeting with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick after last year's Boston Marathon bombing, and NGA chair Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma in Moore, Okla., after a tornado devastated the small town last May. He said the leaders in the room shared their dedication to the public.
"When we've got a Congress that sometimes seems to have a difficult time acting, I want to make sure I have the opportunity to partner with each of you, in any way that I can, to help more Americans work, study, and strive, and make sure that they see their efforts and faith in this country rewarded," he said.
As he has in the past, Obama kept his remarks short and generally apolitical for the event. And in humor, he recognized someone in the room could be the next person to occupy the Oval Office.
"Tonight, we want to make sure that all of you make yourselves at home, to which I'm sure some of you are thinking that's been the plan all along," he said to laughter. "But keep in mind what a wise man once wrote, 'I am more than contented to be governor and shall not care if I never hold another office.' Of course, that was Teddy Roosevelt, so I guess plans change."
But at least one name commonly mentioned for the 2016 election was missing from the gala: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The Republican, once lambasted by some members of his own party for publicly embracing Obama following after Hurricane Sandy, was in town for some NGA meetings but reportedly left this weekend for his daughter's birthday and to prepare for a Tuesday budget address.
He has also been engaged in a subtle tit-for-tat with the president recently. At a town-hall meeting Thursday, Christie disparaged the White House's response to the Sandy recovery, in particular in the address of flood insurance claims. In remarks at a meeting with Democratic governors a day later Obama turned the tables, calling out Christie for opposing a minimum wage hike in New Jersey that was eventually approved by voter referendum.
Fallin followed the president's toast with her own humor, pointing out some VIPs in the room were "reformed legislators" themselves.
"There may be times that we don't always see eye to eye, but we also respect the office of the president and all your cabinet members who have joined us here tonight," the Republican said in closing. "And we are deeply grateful for the opportunity to be able to have a collaboration, to be able to talk, and to be able to work on behalf of this great nation."
Singer-songwriter Sara Baraeilles provided entertainment for the evening.