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January 14, 2013

Obama: "I'm a pretty friendly guy"

President Obama says its his politics, not his personality,that have created an impression he's aloof.

"I'm a pretty friendly guy. And I like a good party," Obama said at a press conference, asked about criticism that he's too insular. "The truth is that, you know when I was in the Senate, I had great relationships over there, and up until the point that I became president, this was not an accusation that you heard very frequently. I think that really what's gone on in terms of some of the paralysis here in Washington, or difficulties in negotiations, just have to do with some very stark differences in terms of policy."

He noted that he likes House Speaker John Boehner "personally," and they had fun golfing, "but that didn't get a deal done in 2011."

And he said when members are at the congressional picnic, posing for pictures with their families and the First Couple, "I promise you, Michelle and I are very nice to them, and we have a wonderful time.

But, he added, "it doesn't prevent them from going onto the floor of the House and, you know, blasting me for being a big-spending socialist. The reason that in many cases Congress votes the way they do or talks the way they talk, or takes positions in negotiations that they take, doesn't have to do with me. It has to do with the imperatives that they feel in terms of their own politics. Right? They're worried about their district. They're worried about what's going on back home."

He said he believes that some Republicans feel that "given how much energy has been devoted in some of the media that's preferred by Republican constituencies to demonize me, that it doesn't look real good socializing with me."

He suggested former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist -- who embraced Obama and has since left the Republican party, "testifies to that."

He continued, "I think a lot of folks say, 'Well, you know, if we look like we're being too cooperative or too chummy with the president, that might cause us problems; that might be an excuse for us to get a challenge from somebody in a primary.' "

He said he invites members of Congress "over here all the time. And when they choose to come, I enjoy their company. Sometimes they don't choose to come, and that has to do with the fact that I think they don't consider the optics useful for them politically."

He acknowledged that "ultimately, the way we're going to get stuff done, personal relationships are important" and said that "obviously, I can always do a better job."

And he suggested it might happen in a second term as his daughters enter their teens: "The nice thing is is that now that my girls are getting older, they don't want to spend that much time with me anyway, so I'll be probably calling around, looking for somebody to play cards with me or something, because I'm getting kind of lonely in this big house. So maybe a whole bunch of members of the House Republican caucus want to come over and socialize more.

"But my suspicion is, getting the issues resolved that we just talked about, the big stuff, whether or not we get sensible laws passed to prevent gun violence, whether or not America's paying its bills, whether or not we get immigration reform done, all that's going to be determined largely by where the respective parties stand on policy and, maybe most importantly, the attitude of the American people.

Now, if the American people feel strongly about these issues and they push hard and they reward or don't reward members of Congress with their votes, you know, if -- if they reject sort of uncompromising positions or sharp partisanship or always looking out for the next election and they reward folks who are trying to find common ground, then I think you'll see behavior in Congress change. And that'll be true whether I'm the life of the party or a stick in the mud."


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"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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