GOP Not Swayed By Obama's Visit On Stimulus

President Barack Obama has called for bipartisanship in order to solve the serious problems the country faces. Obama went to the Capitol to pitch his economic stimulus proposal to House and Senate Republicans Tuesday. The president also wanted to hear their ideas. Obama got to see first hand just how difficult winning GOP votes will be.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Throughout his campaign, during his transition to the presidency, and now in his first week in office, President Barack Obama has talked about changing the partisan tone in Washington. With that in mind, he went to the Capitol yesterday and met with House and Senate Republicans to make his pitch and to hear their ideas. Mr. Obama also saw firsthand just how difficult winning Republican votes will be. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA: President Obama did something unheard of yesterday. He made his first trip to Congress as president and met only with the opposition party. He was looking for votes on the economic stimulus from a reluctant GOP, but he was also sending a message to the American people that he is ready to work with Republicans and that he wants their help dealing with the current crisis.

President BARACK OBAMA: The main message I have is that the statistics every day underscore the urgency of the economic situation. The American people expect action.

GONYEA: Then came the pitch for cooperation despite what he called some legitimate philosophical differences.

President OBAMA: I don't expect 100 percent agreement from my Republican colleagues, but I do hope that we can all put politics aside and do the American people's business right now.

GONYEA: But so far there appears to be little common ground on the stimulus. There were no Republican votes in the House committee that reported the bill to the floor. Republicans say that it's too costly and that it won't create the promised jobs. House Minority Leader John Boehner yesterday called on his Republican colleagues to vote against the stimulus proposal even before the president arrived on the Hill for the session with GOP House members. Later, Boehner was joined at a news conference by Indiana Representative Mike Pence, who began with kind words.

Representative MIKE PENCE (Republican, Indiana): And we take as genuine the president's desire to set partisan differences aside and draw on the best ideas in the Congress to deal with this very real crisis in our economy.

GONYEA: But Pence also made it clear that a changed tone doesn't mean changed minds.

Representative PENCE: But as grateful as we are for the president's spirit, as I told him personally, House Democrats have completely ignored the president's call for bipartisan cooperation.

GONYEA: Democrats counter that Republicans lost control of the Congress two years ago and lost even more seats last November. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): So bipartisanship means giving them an opportunity to make their voices heard and maybe to persuade and prevail in the marketplace of ideas. It does not mean that we are going to have a continuation of the last eight years of failed economic policies that have taken us where we are today.

GONYEA: House Democrats have the votes to pass the stimulus package today. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the president will take any Republican votes he can get, and he stressed numerous times how cordial yesterday's meetings were.

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): The American people deserve a process that understands the severity of the crisis that they're involved in, not to get involved in some animal house type food fight on Capitol Hill about what's going to happen up there.

GONYEA: Congressional Republicans seem to have made the calculation that this is the president's bill. Let him pass it with Democratic votes, and he'll take the heat if it doesn't work. There is risk. Mr. Obama is hugely popular. And to rebuff his friendly overtures could backfire. So for now, there is a more civil tone in Congress, but little else appears to have changed one week into the Obama presidency. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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