WASHINGTON, Jan. 29, 2010— -- 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."
Republicans Doubtful of Obama's Bipartisanship Push
Most Republicans in Congress doubt the president really wants to hear their ideas.
"There was nothing last night in the president's [State of the Union] speech to indicate that there was any willingness to sit down and work together," House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said Thursday. "We're not going to ... vote for things that we believe will hurt our country."
House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., said, "We heard the words. Frankly, we heard a little bit of lecture as well. Now we will see whether the action can kick in with those words."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Obama and Democrats need to scrap the health care bill altogether and start over.
"Nobody on our side is going to find a way to help him pass this bill," Graham said.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who is working with Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York on a plan for tax credits for small businesses that hire new workers, doesn't see much hope for bipartisanship overall.
"I don't want to be too tough on President Obama. I like the man, and I like a lot of the people around him," Hatch said, laughing. "I know them all, and I like them. Do I agree with them? Hell no."
Longtime House Republican, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., said he has written several letters to the White House with his ideas on homeland security but hasn't heard back.
"It's like writing a letter to somebody and nobody ever answers," Wolf said.
Wolf will get a response in the coming days, according to the White House.