The press has been murmuring about a lack of presidential press conferences, but today President Obama obliged, taking questions from reporters solo for the first time since July 22.
Obama gave some long answers and generally kept up a good rapport with the press corps in attendance--joking when they moaned at his calling on NBC's Chuck Todd, "What's wrong with Todd?"--fielding questions on health care reform, Anthem Blue Cross's decision to raise premiums, small business hiring, and sanctions on Iran.
And, on the biggest political challenge confronting his administration--the need to get Republican support to pass anything major through Congress--Obama told the press that he he remains eternally optimistic, despite the difficulties his party is facing.
"I am just an eternal optimist, and so it's the right thing to do," Obama said when asked if he's confident that a bipartisan consensus can form around health care.
Obama has announced a bipartisan health care summit at the White House for Feb. 25, pledging that he's open to Republican ideas. He held a bipartisan meeting with congressional leaders this morning at the White House to discuss jobs and the economy.
Republican leaders, such as House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA), have voiced doubts over Obama's new brand of bipartisanship, warning that the health care summit will be meaningless if it's used as an opportunity to simply re-suggest Democratic ideas the GOP has rejected.
At today's press conference, Obama went beyond his standard lines about being open to ideas but ready to condemn grandstanding and politically motivated recalcitrance.
"All I can do is just keep making the argument about what is right for the country, and assume...that people over time, regardless of party...are gonna gravitate towards the truth," Obama said.
The president said he hopes to get some impartial arbiters, such as the Congressional Budget Office, involved in the meeting to answer factual questions.
"I think that's the key to a successful dialogue on the 25th," Obama said. "Let's establish some facts."
He recalled a line used by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY): "You're entitled to your own opinion, but you're not entitled to your own facts...
"If we can establish some factual accuracy about how different approaches would work, then I think we can make some progress," Obama said.
In other words, the president said that all he can do is keep making his
case, keep an open mind, and try to keep his opponents from distorting facts.