Video: Obama, Republicans tussle during rare Q&A

  1. Closed captioning of: Obama, Republicans tussle during rare Q&A

    >>> "nightly news" begins now.

    >>> good evening. the other night during his state of the union speech , the president called out congress for bad behavior, and for our poisoned political era. he included his own mistakes and promised to talk to the other side. well, today he went to the other side. a meeting of republicans, televised live where he took their questions and defended his own position, and no one who was watching had ever seen anything like it before. it was unusual enough to begin our broadcast tonight. white house correspondent savannah guthrie with us from the north lawn . savannah, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, brian. this was not the first time a president has gone to the opposition party 's meeting. in fact, george w. bush did it. president obama did it last year, but it was the first time the whole q and a was aired live and it made for some fascinating moments. into the heart of the opposition. the president traveled today to baltimore for the house republicans' annual meeting , anxious to show country he's serious about bipartisanship.

    >> i don't think the american people want us to focus on our job security . they wanted us to focus on their job security .

    >> reporter: taking questions from republican members of congress for more than an hour.

    >> i am not an ideologue. i'm not.

    >> reporter: the meeting turned into something of a made-for-tv venting on both sides. on health care .

    >> if you were to listen to the debate, and frankly how some of you went after this bill, you would think that this thing was some bolshevik plot. no. i mean, that's how you guys presented it.

    >> reporter: republicans told the president they presented ideas throughout the year, handing him a booklet of all their proposals they said were ignored by democrats.

    >> they've been stiff-armed by speaker pelosi . i know you're not in charge of that chamber, but there is this dynamic of frankly being shut out.

    >> reporter: acknowledging fault on both sides, the president said democrats haven't rejected every republican suggestion.

    >> i read your legislation. i take a look at this stuff, and the good ideas we take.

    >> reporter: but when republican mike pence of indiana suggested the $787 billion stimulus bill failed to keep unemployment in single digits as promised, the president pounced.

    >> we had lost, it turns out, 700,000 jobs in january, the month i was sworn in. i'm assuming it wasn't my administration policies that accounted for that.

    >> reporter: republicans confronted the president for breaking promises about transparency.

    >> when you stood up before the american people multiple times and said you would broadcast the health care debates on c-span, you didn't. i was disappointed and i think a lot of americans were disappointed.

    >> overwhelmingly, the majority of it was on c-span. because it was taking place in congressional hearings in which you guys were participating. i think it is a legitimate criticism. on that one i take responsibility.

    >> reporter: mostly cordial on the surface, the president did spar at one point over the ballooning budget deficit .

    >> at some point i know you're going to let me answer.

    >> that's the question, you assume --

    >> with all due respect. i've got to take this last question as an example how it's very hard to have the kind of bipartisan work we are going to do.

    >> reporter: in the end, both times claimed to have a bipartisan good time.

    >> we'll have one more after that if your time permits, mr. president.

    >> i'm having fun. this is great.

    >> so are we.

    >> reporter: well, this is an interesting moment in washington. polls repeatedly show america is fed up with washington's ways, so both sides are trying to show it's the other guy's fault for all this partisan gridlock.

    >> savannah guthrie starting us off at the white house tonight. they are going to take all this videotape apart in primetime on msnbc. take another look at exactly what transpired today.

    >>> we move to another front

updated 1/29/2010 5:37:58 PM ET 2010-01-29T22:37:58

In a remarkably sharp face-to-face confrontation, President Barack Obama chastised Republican lawmakers Friday for opposing him on taxes, health care and the economic stimulus, while they accused him in turn of brushing off their ideas and driving up the national debt.

The president and GOP House members took turns questioning and sometimes lecturing each other for more than hour at a Republican gathering in Baltimore. The Republicans agreed to let TV cameras inside, resulting in an extended, point-by-point interchange that was almost unprecedented in U.S. politics, except perhaps during presidential debates.

With voters angry about partisanship and legislative logjams, both sides were eager to demonstrate they were ready to cooperate, resulting in the GOP invitation and Obama's acceptance. After polite introductions, however, Friday's exchange showed that Obama and the Republicans remain far apart on key issues, and neither side could resist the chance to challenge and even scold the other.

Obama said Republican lawmakers have attacked his health care overhaul so fiercely, "you'd think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot." His proposals are mainstream, widely supported ideas, he said, and they deserve some GOP votes in Congress.

"I am not an ideologue," the president declared.

But Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., pointedly asked Obama: "What should we tell our constituents who know that Republicans have offered positive solutions" for health care, "and yet continue to hear out of the administration that we've offered nothing?"

Obama showed little sympathy, disputing Price's claim that a Republican plan would insure nearly all Americans without raising taxes.

"That's just not true," said Obama. He called such claims "boilerplate" meant to score political points.

At times it seemed more like Britain's "question time" — when lawmakers in the House of Commons trade barbs with the prime minister — than a meeting between a U.S. president and members of Congress.

Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana defended Price on the health care proposals. He said a GOP agenda booklet given to Obama at the start of the session "is backed up by precisely the kind of detailed legislation that Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and your administration have been busy ignoring for 12 months."

Obama shot back that he had read the Republican proposals and that they promise solutions that can't be realized.

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In another barbed exchange, the president said some Republican lawmakers in the audience had attended ribbon-cutting ceremonies for projects in their districts funded by the 2009 stimulus package that they voted against.

Video: Life support for health care? Pence said Obama was trying to defend "a so-called stimulus that was a piecemeal list of projects and boutique tax cuts."

Obama replied, "When you say they were boutique tax cuts, Mike, 95 percent of working Americans got tax cuts."

"This notion that this was a radical package is just not true," he said.

Republicans are feeling energized after winning a Democratic Senate seat in Massachusetts, and Obama is trying to refocus his stalled agenda more on jobs than health care. With Obama at a podium facing a hotel conference room full of Republicans, both sides jumped to the debate.

"It was the kind of discussion that we frankly need to have more of," said House Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia.

"I'm having fun, this is great," Obama said when Pence asked if he had time for more questions.

"So are we," said Pence.

Some Republicans prefaced their questions with lengthy recitations of conservative talking points. The president sometimes listened impassively but sometimes broke in.

"I know there's a question in there somewhere, because you're making a whole bunch of assertions, half of which I disagree with," Obama said to Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, whom he mistakenly called "Jim."

Video: Boehner: 'Today was a good first step' Obama, a former law school professor, launched into lectures of his own at times. He warned lawmakers from both parties against demonizing a political opponent, because voters might find it incomprehensible if the two sides ever agree on anything.

"We've got to be careful about what we say about each other sometimes, because it boxes us in in ways that makes it difficult for us to work together because our constituents start believing us," Obama said. "So just a tone of civility instead of slash-and-burn would be helpful."

Republicans sat attentively for the most part. There was some grumbling when Obama remarked — after being pressed about closed-door health care negotiations — that much of the legislation was developed in congressional committees in front of television cameras.

"That was a messy process," Obama said.

GOP lawmakers pressured him to support a presidential line-item veto for spending bills and to endorse across-the-board tax cuts. Obama said he was ready to talk about the budget proposal, though he disputed accusations that his administration was to blame for big increases in deficit spending. And he demurred on the idea of cutting everyone's taxes, saying with a smile that billionaires don't need tax cuts.

In his opening remarks, Obama criticized what he said was a Washington culture driven by opinion polls and nonstop political campaigns.

"I don't believe that the American people want us to focus on our job security, they want us to focus on their job security," he said.

The president acknowledged that Republicans have joined Democrats in some efforts, such as sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. But he said he was disappointed and perplexed by virtually unanimous GOP opposition to other programs, such as the economic stimulus bill.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said of the event, "In some places I kind of felt like I was in my high school assembly being lectured by my principal. In others, I felt like he was listening."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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