Obama urges Democratic colleagues to turn off the TV, talk to folks

Reporting from Washington – In a morning pep talk to Senate Democrats, President Obama urged his allies to buck up despite electoral setbacks, bear down in the final push to overhaul healthcare — and, whatever they do, quit relying on blogs and cable television for news. Those online and TV sources create a Washington “echo chamber” that’s overly fixated on political analysis, he said, when a better perspective on the world comes from talking to average Americans on a regular basis.

“There’s a mistake I made last year,” Obama said, “and that’s just not getting out of here enough.”

But even as Obama delivered the advice at an issues conference of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, several lawmakers in danger during this year’s elections queued up at the microphone for a question-and-answer session that would make nice footage for campaign ads.

Fortunately for them, cable TV news was there to capture it all.

If the president’s session with Republican lawmakers last week was a combative back-and-forth, this was more like a town-hall meeting, focused not on sweeping issues of policy and politics but on parochial questions mostly from endangered Democrats.

Since his State of the Union address last week, Obama has offered a spirited defense of his agenda, his feisty demeanor an implicit promise of support for those Democrats who work with him. At a time when some might be thinking about parting ways with his agenda, Obama is making a public case that now is not the time to abandon the ideals that swept him into office.

Democrats’ loss of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts last month has made some members weak in the knees. Speaking to lawmakers at the Newseum, Obama urged resolve.

“If anybody’s searching for a lesson from Massachusetts,” Obama said, “I promise you, the answer is not to do nothing.”

Republicans may reason that their best strategy lies in fighting the White House and congressional Democrats even on common-sense efforts, Obama said, figuring that “the cost of blocking everything is less than the cost of passing nothing.”

But Americans are “fed up” with the fixation in Washington political circles with who is winning and who is losing, he said.

“Don’t lose sight of why we’re here,” he said, citing the need to overhaul healthcare and pass financial regulatory reform. “We’ve got to finish the job.”

Toward that end, Obama has invited bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate to the White House on Tuesday, an administration official said this morning.

Topics on the table will including “working together” on the economy and jobs, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said. Obama envisions this as the first of the monthly bipartisan leadership meetings, which he announced in his State of the Union address.

This afternoon, Obama is scheduled to meet with a bipartisan group of governors from around the country to talk about investing in clean energy and ending the country’s dependence on foreign sources of energy.

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