Obama on bad relations with Republicans: "Both sides can take some blame"

Friday, January 29, 2010; 4:12 PM

After addressing the GOP House Issues Conference in Baltimore on Friday, President Obama took a series of questions from the lawmakers. Here is a transcript of one of the questions posed to the president:

REP. PETER ROSKAM (R-ILL.): Mr. President, I heard echoes today of the state senator that I served with in Springfield, and there was an attribute and a characteristic that you had that I think served you well there. You took on some very controversial subjects: death penalty reform. I -- you and I . . .

OBAMA: We worked on it together.

ROSKAM: . . . negotiated on.


ROSKAM: You took on ethics reform. You took on some big things.

One of the keys was you rolled your sleeves up, you worked with the other party, and ultimately you were able to make the deal.

Now, here's an observation.

Over the past year, in my view, that attribute hasn't been in full bloom. And by that I mean, you've gotten the subtext of House Republicans that sincerely want to come and be a part of this national conversation toward solutions, but they've really been stiff-armed by Speaker Pelosi.

Now, I know you're not in charge of that chamber, but there really is this dynamic of, frankly, being shut out.

When John Boehner and Eric Cantor presented last February to you some substantive job creation, our stimulus alternative, the attack machine began to marginalize Eric -- and we can all look at the articles -- as Mr. No. And there was this pretty dark story, ultimately, that wasn't productive and wasn't within this sort of framework that you're articulating today.

So here's the question: Moving forward -- I think all of us want to hit the reset button on 2009, how do we move forward?

And on the job creation piece in particular, you mentioned Colombia, you mentioned Panama, you mentioned South Korea. Are you willing to work with us, for example, to make sure those FTAs get called? That's no-cost job creation. And ultimately, as you're interacting with world leaders, that's got to put more arrows in your quiver, and that's a very, very powerful tool for us.

But the obstacle is, frankly, the politics within the Democratic Caucus.

OBAMA: Well, the -- first of all, Peter and I did work together effectively on a whole host of issues. One of our former colleagues is right now running for governor on the Republican side in Illinois.

OBAMA: In the Republican primary, of course, they're running ads of him saying nice things about me.


Poor guy.


Although, that's the -- that's one of the points that I made earlier. I mean, we've got to be careful about what we say about each other sometimes because it boxes us in ways that makes it difficult for us to work together because our constituents start believing us. They don't know sometimes this is just politics, what you guys, you know, or folks on my side do sometimes. So just a tone of civility instead of slash-and-burn would be helpful.

The problem we have sometimes is a media that responds only to slash- and-burn-style politics. You don't get a lot of credit if I say, "You know, I think Paul Ryan's a pretty sincere guy and has a beautiful family." Nobody's going to run that in the newspapers, right?


And by the way, in case he's going to get a Republican challenge, I didn't mean it.


I don't want to -- don't want to hurt you, man.


But, the -- on the specifics, I think both sides can take some blame for a sour climate on Capitol Hill. What I can do maybe to help is to try to bring Republican and Democratic leadership together on a more regular basis with me. That's, I think, a failure on my part is to try to foster better communications, even if there's disagreement. And -- and I will try to see if we can do more of that this year.

That's on the -- sort of, the general issue.

On the specific issue of trade, you're right. There are conflicts within and fissures within the Democratic Party. I suspect there probably are going to be some fissures within the Republican Party as well.

I mean, you know, if you went to some of your constituencies, they'd be pretty suspicious about it -- new trade agreements, because the suspicion is somehow they're all one-way.

So part of what we've been trying to do is make sure that we're getting the enforcement side of this tight; make sure that if we've got a trade agreement with China or other countries, that they are abiding with it, they're not stealing our intellectual property, we're making sure that their non-tariff barriers are lowered, even as ours are opened up.

OBAMA: And my hope is that we can move forward with some of these trade agreements, having built some confidence, not just among particular constituency groups, but among the American people, that trade is going to be reciprocal, that it's not just going to be a one- way street.

You are absolutely right, though, Peter, when you say, for example, South Korea is a great ally of ours. I mean, when I visited there, there's no country that is more committed to friendship on a whole range of fronts than South Korea.

What is also true is that the European Union is about to sign a trade agreement with South Korea, which means right at the moment when they start opening up their markets, the Europeans might get in there before we do.

So we've got to make sure that we seize these opportunities. I will be talking more about trade this year. It's going to have to be trade that combines opening their markets with an enforcement mechanism, as well as just opening up our markets.

I think that's something that all of us would agree on. Let's see if we can execute it over the next several years.

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