WHITE HOUSE — U.S. President Barack Obama has urged the chief executives of the nation's states to partner with him to achieve key parts of his domestic agenda.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama hosted a dinner for state governors on Sunday, and on Monday Obama and Vice President Biden addressed them in the State Dining Room at the White House.
Since he delivered his State of the Union Address, the president has focused on what he calls his 'Year of Action' on jobs and the economy, and his 'Opportunity Agenda.' That includes action to bring down unemployment, expand job training, improve the U.S. education system, and raise wages.
In the absence of broader action by Congress, he has signed a series of executive orders designed to help create new jobs and help the middle class.
"I am eager to work with Congress wherever I can," Obama said. "My hope is that despite this being an election year, that there will be occasions where both parties will determine that it makes sense to actually get some things done in this town. But wherever I can work on my own to expand opportunity for more Americans I am going to do that."
Obama reprised his message that those at the top in the economy are doing very well, but many Americans continue to be squeezed and are struggling.
He said Congress is unlikely to have an appetite for major jobs legislation, but the economy has opportunities for growth because global investors are increasingly looking at the United States, rather than China, something states can benefit from.
Obama noted steps taken in six states to raise the minimum wage, another of his priorities, and progress enrolling more people for insurance under his health care reform, known as Obamacare.
About a dozen governors spoke with reporters. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, a Republican, and Colorado's John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, stressed areas of agreement.
"What the governors try to do is find areas of agreement," Fallin said.
"For every place there is disagreement there are 10 places where we said, all right that we can work on," said Hickenlooper.
But there also were signs of sharp political divisions over key issues.
Democratic Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy responded to Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal's criticism of President Obama.
"There are things we can do, instead of waving the white flag of surrender, instead of declaring this economy to be a minimum wage economy, I think America can do better," Jindal said.
"I don't know what the heck was a reference to a white flag when it comes to people making [only] $404 a week. That is the most insane statement I ever heard," said Malloy.
The president drew laughs Monday when he joked about ambitions many of the state leaders often have for higher office.
"And I enjoyed watching some of you with your eyes on higher office, size of the drapes. And each other," he said.
Republican Governor Fallin said Obama told the state chief executives he expects to make a decision in the next couple of months about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would connect Canadian shale oil fields to U.S. Gulf of Mexico ports.