WASHINGTON -- Discussions between President Barack Obama and the nation's governors began on a hopeful bipartisan note Monday, but quickly devolved into a nasty dispute between Republicans and Democrats once the politicians got in front of the microphones.
Mr. Obama and his Cabinet members welcomed all but a handful of top state leaders, in town for a National Governors Association meeting, to a roughly hour-long joint White House news conference to discuss a range of issues, including the National Guard funding, health care, energy development and a possible minimum wage increase.
Praising them for their practicality, the president said members of his Cabinet and staff were eager to work with them.
"You want to do right by your people, and you see how good policy impacts your citizens, and you see how bad policy impacts your citizens, and that means that there's less room for posturing and politics, and more room for getting stuff done," he said. "We won't agree on every single issue every single time, but I guarantee you that we will work as hard as we can to make sure that you succeed -- because when you succeed, the people in your states succeed and America succeeds, and that's our goal."
Oklahoma's Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, who chairs the NGA, said after the meeting with the large governors group that the two sides had engaged in "a very productive conversation" and exchanged ideas on such issues as infrastructure and Medicaid reform. "People expect us to take action on those issues," she said.
But members of both parties expressed concerns about the proposed National Guard budget cuts, and the governors sparred over economic and energy policy, even as they said they talked about finding common ground.
Iowa Republican Gov. Terry Branstad said he and others were concerned about National Guard funding reductions because the Guard plays such a crucial role in response to states' emergencies. Given that the Army has had a disproportionate increase in its budget in the past decade, he said, "that's where we think the reductions should be" made.
Toward the end of the session, Louisiana's Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal said the president "seems to be waving the white flag of surrender" abandoning all hope of producing a robust economy now that he's pushing a minimum-wage increase. "After more than five years under this administration, the Obama economy is now the minimum-wage economy," he said. "I think we can do better than that. I think America can do better than that."
Mr. Jindal said Mr. Obama should approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline "if he was serious about growing the economy."
TransCanada, which wants to build the pipeline, contended Monday that the route across Nebraska approved by Republican Gov. Dave Heineman remains in effect, despite a judge's ruling last week that the 2012 state law giving him that authority is unconstitutional. Plaintiffs in the case repeated their belief that the route had been invalidated.
In a separate news conference, Republican Governors Association members criticized the president for what they described as a lack of trust in state leaders to make decisions for their citizens. Democrats dismissed the criticisms as posturing.
The GOP leaders were quick to say the overall discussion was conducted with civility and respect.