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Obama calls for return to civility in Washington

President Barack Obama acknowledges applause after speaking at the 58th National Prayer Breakfast Thursday at a hotel in Washington.
President Barack Obama acknowledges applause after speaking at the 58th National Prayer Breakfast Thursday at a hotel in Washington. MANDEL NGAN / AFP/Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Barack Obama said Thursday he prays lawmakers can restore a "spirit of civility" to the nation's capital.

Speaking at the annual National Prayer breakfast, Obama said divisions in Washington are nothing new, but "there is a sense that something is different now, that something is broken, that those of us in Washington aren't serving people as well as we should."

Obama said America's leaders are quick to unite in times of crisis, such as last month's devastating earthquake in Haiti. But when it comes to long-term problems, he said, lawmakers can become absorbed by ideology and power contests.

He urged leaders to be empowered by faith to bridge divisions and unite around common goals.

"You can question my policies without questioning my faith. Or, for that matter, my citizenship," Obama said, referring to critics who have questioned whether he was born in the United States.

Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow also participated at the yearly breakfast, which has been held in Washington for more than 50 years. Every president since Dwight Eisenhower has participated.

This year's event drew controversy when an ethics group asked the president to boycott the breakfast over objections to the sponsor, The Fellowship Foundation. In a letter to Obama and congressional leaders, the watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington said The Fellowship Foundation has "been cultivating an unorthodox brand of Christianity amongst the political, military and economic elite of America." The group says the foundation is also linked to efforts to pass strict anti-gay laws in Uganda.