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White House

Obama Meets with New Governors

'We have no interest in making your life harder,' the president tells a mostly Republican group of incoming chief executives.

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President Obama speaks during a meeting with newly elected state governors at Blair House, across the street from the White House. The president is trying to find allies among the newly minted chief executives, most of whom are Republicans.(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

President Obama came face-to-face today with the breadth of the recent GOP victories, welcoming to Washington the Republicans who were elected governor despite the president’s staunch opposition. There weren’t many Democrats in the room when Obama met with the 23 new governors at Blair House. Eighteen were Republican, with only four Democrats and one independent.

It was a lopsided ratio that the president noted as he appealed for the governors to work with him. “I am a very proud Democrat,” he said, adding, “as some of you in the room are -- although not as many as I had expected.”

 

He told them both sides had been through “a very vigorously contested election.” But, he said, “The election is over.”

Obama said he is optimistic that Republicans and Democrats will agree soon on how to extend the Bush tax cuts that expire at the end of this month. But, he added, “That doesn’t mean there won’t be some posturing over the next couple of days.”

The president also warned the governors-to-be that if Congress fails to extend expiring unemployment benefits, the biggest impact will be felt in their states. “It could have a huge impact on your local economies,” he said, contending that 7 million people would be cut off.

 

Seeking to enlist the governors as partners in cutting spending, Obama asked them to report to the White House any federal programs that are not working, dismissing as "mythology" the charge that he favors big government.

“Believe it or not, it turns out that I would love to eliminate programs that don’t work, and you guys are the ones oftentimes who are implementing them. If there is red tape or bureaucracy that we can eliminate, we want to eliminate them. We have no interest in making your life harder. We want to be a partner for all of you.”

He implored the governors to take their criticisms directly to the administration.

“Don’t wait until you’re really mad about something before you call us,” he said. “We prefer not to read about it in the press. We’d rather you called us ahead of time.” For his part, Hawaii Gov.-elect Neil Abercrombie, who has known Obama's family since the president's childhood, said, “The lines of communication are now open between the governors and the White House and Cabinet officials."

 

The president promised that “we’ll work with you, and if we don’t agree with you, we will spell out in great detail why we don’t agree with you. And it’s not going to be based on ideology. It’s not going to be based on partisanship. It’s going to be based upon our best judgment about how we move forward with the policy objectives that we all share.”

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