Feb. 9, 2010— -- Michelle Obama defended her husband against some of his most vocal critics, saying President Obama did a "phenomenal" job this year and that change is a long-term process.
"I think my husband has done a phenomenal job staying on course, looking his critics in the eye, coming up with clear solutions against staying the course," Michelle Obama told Robin Roberts in an exclusive morning television interview on "Good Morning America." "That's what leadership is. But people have the right to criticize the president of the United States."
Michelle Obama's comments came in response to recent criticism from Sarah Palin, who told Tea Party conventioneers in Nashville, Tenn., this weekend that she wants to ask Obama supporters, "How is that hope-y, change-y stuff working out for you?"
"Rightfully, some people are frustrated, right?" the first lady said. "But one of the things that Barack Obama said and continues to say is change isn't easy, and it doesn't happen overnight. And it certainly doesn't happen in a year.
"He's not done yet. He's got more time," she said.
Obama has invited the Democratic and Republican leadership to a health care meeting Feb. 25 at Blair House, across the street from the White House. The president told CBS News' Katie Couric in a pre-Super Bowl interview Sunday that he wants to look at specific Republican ideas, and that he will question them about what they intend to do about the health crisis facing the United States.
"I think that what I want to do is to look at the Republican ideas that are out there and I want to be very specific: How do you guys want to lower costs? How do you guys intend to reform the insurance markets so people with pre-existing conditions, for example, can get health care? How do you want to make sure that the 30 million people who don't have health insurance can get it? What are your ideas specifically?" Obama told Couric.
"And if we can go step by step through a series of these issues and arrive at some agreements, then procedurally there's no reason why we can't do it a lot faster than the process took last year," he said.
The president is standing firm on his health care overhaul efforts despite hesitation from many Democrats facing a tough fight in this year's midterm elections. Addressing the Democratic National Committee meeting Saturday, Obama said he is "not going to walk away from health insurance reform."
The president compared the forces he's facing to the winter storm that hit Washington, D.C., this weekend, dubbed the "snopocalypse."
"We are moving forward," he said. "Sometimes we may be moving forward against the prevailing winds. Sometimes it may be against a blizzard. But we're going to live up to our responsibility to lead."
With this month's summit, the White House is hoping to recapture the energy of Obama's appearance at the House Republican retreat last month. The president was praised then for engaging with Republicans, and the administration is hoping to replicate that scene with this bipartisan summit that they have opened to cameras.
For Republicans and conservatives, the invitation comes at a time when they feel the White House is on the defensive.
Sarah Palin Goes on the Attack
The former Alaska governor took a dig at the Obama administration at every opportunity during her keynote speech at the Tea Party convention this weekend.
"A special hello to the C-Span viewers. You may not be welcome in those health care negotiations, but you have an invitation to the Tea Party," she said, referring to Obama's promise that all health care talks would be open to the public, which did not turn out to be true.
That attack against the Obama administration continued on "Fox News Sunday," when Palin panned the president on all issues, ranging from the economy to health care.
"When he is up there and he is telling us, basically, 'I know best. My people here in the White House know best, and we are going to tell you that yes, you do want this essentially nationalized health care system.' And we're saying, 'No, we don't,'" Palin said. "And the messages are not being received by Barack Obama. So I think instead of lecturing, he needs to stop and he needs to listen on health care issues, on national security."
Palin took some heat on the Web after pictures emerged of speaking pointers written on her hand at her keynote speech: Energy, cut taxes and lift America's spirits. The word "budget" was slashed out. Some critics charged Palin with double standards after she made fun of Obama using a teleprompter.
"This is about the people," Palin said Saturday, referring to the Tea Party convention. "This is about the people, and it's bigger than any king or queen of a Tea Party. And it's a lot bigger than any charismatic guy with a teleprompter."
In retaliation, Palin the next day wrote a different kind of message on her hand while campaigning for Texas Gov. Rick Perry: "Hi Mom."
When Republicans and Democrats meet later this month for the bipartisan health care meeting, the president can expect some tough negotiations.
House Republican leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement that he was "obviously" pleased that the president "finally seems interested in a real, bipartisan conversation on health care." A House Republican alternative bill, he said, "would lower premiums by up to 10 percent while increasing access for Americans without health insurance," which he called "a solid starting point."
"The American people have overwhelmingly rejected both of the job-killing trillion-dollar government takeover of health care bills passed by the House and Senate," Boehner said, suggesting that the "best way to start on real, bipartisan reform would be to scrap those bills and focus on the kind of step-by-step improvements that will lower health care costs and expand access."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also issued a supportive statement, saying that Senate Democrats "have promoted the pursuit of a bipartisan approach to health reform from day one."