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Obama lowers bar on GOP support

From NBC's Ken Strickland
President Obama surprised Capitol Hill reporters when he held a short impromptu gaggle after his meeting with Senate Republicans. He immediately lowered the bar -- lower than he had before the meeting -- for how much Republican support he expected from an economic recovery package.

"We're not going to get 100 percent agreement, and we might not even get 50 percent agreement," he said. "But I do think people appreciate me walking them through my thought process. I hope that I communicated a sincere desire to get good ideas from everybody."

Senate Republican Leaders respected Obama's efforts and, in turn, seemed reluctant to harshly criticize him or the meeting.

"I think everyone was very pleased with the level of candor, the desire to look for bipartisan solutions," said Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. "I know I'm speaking for every single member of our conference that we appreciated his coming up, and enjoyed the whole exchange."

Video: Politico.com's Jonathan Martin discusses Obama's major efforts to sway Republicans on the stimulus plan; one Republican has called him the "Charmer-in-Chief."

While House Republican leaders were definitive in their opposition to the proposal moving through their chamber, Senate Republicans held their fire. When asked directly if his caucus supports the stimulus package, McConnell said, "That's a question none of us need to answer, because the bill as it currently stands has not been seen by anybody yet."

McConnell said he was optimistic that when the bill comes to the floor, Republicans would be given a chance to change the legislation by offering amendments.

"We have a new Senate now, in which amendments are offered and voted on," he said, referring to the last Congress where Republicans were often blocked from the amendment process. "We'll see what [the bill] looks like when we get to the final voting."

Senate Republicans were also publicly quiet on the specifics of the meeting, only calling it "constructive" with "a very frank exchange of views." One attendee suggested he heard nothing new, nothing that hadn't already been reported.

But GOP leaders were quick to acknowledge their recommendations to the president. 

"Housing is something that's very much on the minds of our members," said Sen. John Thune, vice chairman of the Republican Conference. "And it's something that we think is fundamental to trying to get us out of this situation that we're in."

Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, suggested a 4% Treasury-backed mortgage "for every credit-worthy American," or a $15,000-dollar tax credit for first-time homebuyers.

"Among Republican senators there's more focus on housing and toxic assets and less enthusiasm for spending," Alexander said. "You heard many Republicans express concern about the amount of spending dollars we are borrowing, dollars we don't have on projects that don't create jobs."

President Obama's efforts at bipartisanship seem directed beyond the current stimulus package.

"My attitude is that this is the first major piece of legislation we've been working on and over time some of these habits of consultation and mutual respect will take over," Obama said. But he quickly added, "Old habits die hard."