Despite setbacks on Capitol Hill, President Barack Obama said Tuesday he still supports the need for broad climate legislation and pledged to keep pushing for it. The White House expressed fresh hope the Senate and House might strike a deal on a sweeping energy plan this year.
Lacking the votes they need in this election year, Senate Democrats have abandoned Obama's goal of a bill that would cap the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Instead, Democrats hope to pass a narrower measure that responds to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and takes steps to improve energy efficiency.
"I want to emphasize it's only the first step," Obama said in the Rose Garden after a meeting with congressional leaders of both parties. "And I intend to keep pushing for broader reform, including climate legislation."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs later went further, disputing the notion that a climate bill is dead for the year. He suggested that such a comprehensive bill could be negotiated between House and Senate members once, as the White House hopes, the Senate approves a scaled-back energy bill in the coming days.
Such a bill would then have to be approved by both chambers.
The House voted 219-212 last year for a "cap and trade" plan featuring economic incentives to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, vehicles and other sources. It remains unclear how Democrats could muster the votes in the Senate to get even a version of that bill approved.
Republicans slammed the House bill as a "national energy tax" and jobs killer, arguing that the costs would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher electricity bills and fuel costs that would lead manufacturers to take their factories overseas.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said no Republican senators were willing to vote for the broader energy bill he wanted, leaving Democrats shy of the 60 votes needed to overcome GOP delaying tactics.
Obama also called on Congress to pass legislation that he says will help small businesses grow and hire again.
A measure pending in the Senate would create a new lending fund to help community banks offer loans. Obama urged lawmakers not to block the initiative.
Obama announced during his State of the Union address earlier this year that he planned to hold monthly bipartisan meetings with congressional leaders at the White House. Among those present Monday was House Minority Leader John Boehner, who has ratcheted up his criticism of Obama in recent weeks, accusing the president of stooping to partisan attacks and saying Obama cannot sell his economic plan.
Obama has argued that Boehner and Republicans are trying to advance the same agenda that led the country into the recession.
The president said he urged Senate Republicans to help fill federal judgeship vacancies. He said his nominees have been waiting up to eight months to be confirmed, even though they have received unanimous or nearly unanimous bipartisan support in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
He blamed "some in the minority" for using procedural tactics to delay the votes.
Since he took office, the president has nominated 86 federal judicial candidates, 62 for district courts, 22 at the circuit level and two Supreme Court justices. The Senate has confirmed 37 of those. At this point in his presidency, President George W. Bush had 62 percent of his district court nominees confirmed, while Obama has had 45 percent confirmed.
There are currently 101 current vacancies on the federal bench.