Washington (AP) - Appealing for bipartisanship in a town where it's hard to find, President Barack Obama sat down with Democrats and Republicans Tuesday to spur cooperation on job creation, deficit reduction and health care overhaul. He promised to do his part - but warned he would take Republicans to task if they don't do the same.
"The people who sent us here expect a seriousness of purpose that transcends petty politics," Obama said afterward, making a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room.
He started his remarks to reporters by engaging in a bit of wishful thinking: joking about Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and Republican leader Mitch McConnell "out doing snow angels together on the South Lawn."
But the friendly rhetoric quickly gave way to tougher talk.
"We can't afford grandstanding at the expense of actually getting something done," Obama said. "What I won't consider is doing nothing."
Obama ticked off several areas where he said cooperation should be easy. But most of the ideas on which he called for bipartisanship were ones he favors, whether it was job creation (money for infrastructure repairs, small business tax cuts and lending, tax breaks for energy efficiency improvements), health care (extending coverage and making it more affordable) or deficit cutting (a bipartisan commission).
"I won't hesitate to embrace a good idea from my friends in the minority party, but I also won't hesitate to condemn ... what I consider to be obstinacy," he said.
He also threatened to act unilaterally to install his choices for several government vacancies that normally would require Senate confirmation, if his nominees continue to be held up. Presidents have the ability to make what are called recess appointments in such cases, though people installed that way can stay in the job only until the end of the current Congress.
Most recently, the White House had highlighted blocking action by Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, who had placed a hold on about 70 of Obama's nominees.
Obama met earlier Tuesday in the White House's Cabinet Room with the top House and Senate leaders of both parties, plus numerous aides. It was the first time in two months that GOP leaders met with him in the White House.
Afterward, the top Republican in the Senate told reporters that "there are some areas of potential agreement" on a jobs package.
McConnell cited Republicans' and Obama's shared interests in nuclear power, clean coal technology, offshore drilling and the completion of languishing trade deals.
McConnell, R-Ky., cautioned, though, that most of the members of his Republican caucus hadn't yet seen the Democrats' planned jobs legislation.
Republicans seemed even more wary of Obama's call for a bipartisan forum on health care on Feb. 25.
"It's going to be very difficult to have a bipartisan conversation with regard to a 2,700-page health care bill that the Democrat majority in the House and the Democrat majority in the Senate can't pass," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. "It really is time to scrap the bill and start over."
Obama said he intends for the meeting to be a serious conversation. "My hope is this doesn't end up being political theater," he said.
But he also said he will insist on any final bill achieving certain goals, such as ending abusive insurance industry practices, reducing costs and expanding the affordability of and access to coverage
"We have an obligation, both parties, to tackle this issue in a serious way," he said.
Appealing for bipartisanship in a town where it's hard to find, President Barack Obama sat down with Democrats and Republicans Tuesday to spur cooperation on job creation, deficit reduction and health care overhaul. He promised to do his part - but warned