- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 14, 2016

Elaborating on his admitted failure to heal the partisan divide in Washington, President Obama said Thursday his presidency got off to a bad start in 2009 because some Republican lawmakers were more concerned about their re-election than they were in helping him to save the nation from economic ruin.

Speaking at a town-hall-style event in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the president, expanding on a theme he raised in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, said he has “done soul-searching” in office about what he could have done differently to work more effectively with Republicans in Congress.

“I think part of it had to do with when I came in, we had a real emergency and we had to act quickly,” he said of the global recession in 2009 that prompted a government bailout of the auto industry and passage of an $800-billion-plus economic “stimulus” package passed largely by the then-Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

The problem, Mr. Obama said, was that “people in Washington sometimes weren’t always as focused on getting the job done as they were [on], ‘How’s this going to position us for future elections?’”

No Republicans voted for the stimulus in the House, and just three voted for it in the Senate — one of whom, then-Sen. Arlen Specter, quickly switched parties and became a Democrat.

Soon after the stimulus vote, Mr. Obama began pushing his health care law, which also turned into another partisan fight. Although the president invited Republicans and Democrats to the White House to talk about his plans, in the end Democrats moved ahead without the GOP, clearing the bill through the House and Senate without earning a single Republican vote.

SEE ALSO: Obama forgets which city he’s in

When he was campaigning for president in 2008, Mr. Obama pledged to “turn the page on the ugly partisanship in Washington, so we can bring Democrats and Republicans together to pass an agenda that works for the American people.” But during his final State of the Union address Tuesday night, the president said one of his regrets is that “the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.”

At a retreat with Republican lawmakers Thursday to plan strategy for this year in Congress, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan told his colleagues that “the challenge we have clearly, in this particular government, is Barack Obama is president.”

“We think the country is on the wrong track,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “We think we’re headed in the wrong direction on so many issues — economic growth, upward mobility, poverty, national security. That’s why we’re here today to talk among ourselves about how we go forward.”

Reflecting on the lack of bipartisanship, Mr. Obama said he has “no doubt there are things I could have done better,” without specifying what actions he could have taken. But he also said the problem was beyond his power to solve anyway.

“This is not something a president can do by him or herself,” the president said. “When it comes to how we work together, the main impetus for a better politics is going to be the American people. They have to demand it. “

He said too many voters are sending the message that they don’t want their representatives to compromise.

“If you punish an elected official for even talking to the other side, then it’s going to produce the kind of politics that we have seen in Washington too often,” Mr. Obama said.

In 2013, the president cited then-Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio as a Republican lawmaker who wanted to compromise with him but faced too much criticism “on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh.”

Mr. Obama embarked on the two-day trip to Nebraska and Louisiana to follow up on his proposals from the State of the Union address, and engage in a final-year effort to meet people who don’t always agree with him, according to White House aides. But his two speeches were held before strongly supportive audiences at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, and at a high school in Baton Rouge where the audience members gave a standing ovation when one audience member suggested that first lady Michelle Obama run for the presidency, something Mr. Obama replied would never happen.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the audiences are to a degree self-selected.

“The president’s most enthusiastic supporters are the people who are going to be most enthusiastic about standing in line, working hard to get the limited supply of tickets,” he said. ” … It’s not because we chose the audience. I think it’s because the audience chose themselves.”

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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