President Obama's surprise plans for a bipartisan summit on health care eclipsed his stated priority to pass a jobs bill, sending a mixed message about the administration's objectives.
The last-ditch effort to save his unpopular signature issue also received a cold reception from Republicans, who said their best idea for health care reform is to scrap it .
“The problem with the Democrats' health care bills is not that the American people don't understand them; the American people do understand them, and they don't like them,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Obama told CBS News that he will invite Republicans to a televised summit Feb. 25 to consider on how best to move forward on health care reform. The plan follows similar remarks by the president last week calling for a bipartisan reconsideration of the issue.
“If we can go step by step through a series of these issues and arrive at some agreements, then procedurally, there's no reason why we can't do it a lot faster than the process took last year,” Obama told CBS.
Most of last year was consumed by the debate of health care, which took its last breath — many thought — when Democrats lost their supermajority in the Senate in a Massachusetts special election.
Democrats, facing a tough election year, are eager to get cracking on a jobs bill that shows results in time to have a positive effect on voters in November. Polls show jobs and the economy rank as Americans' top concerns.
Republicans also are skeptical of Obama's sudden interest in inclusiveness, noting the minority party has been consistently locked out of the health care debate.
“The only play the president knows how to run is a hollow PR blitz,” said Rep. Tom Price, a Georgia Republican and chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. “Only now, once the president's plan is considered to be on political life support, does the White House seek input from Republicans.”
The administration, meanwhile, has been struggling with a consistent message on other fronts.
In the same CBS interview, Obama continued to waffle on whether he will push to have accused 9/11 co-conspirators tried in Manhattan civilian courts.
“I have not ruled it out, but I think it's important for us to take into account the practical, logistical issues involved,” Obama said. “I mean, if you have a city that is saying no, and a police department that is saying no, and a mayor that is saying no, that makes it difficult.”
The administration announced the plan in November, prompting a massive push back from New Yorkers and others over logistics, safety and security costs.
While they consider alternatives, opposition to the plan has hardened while the administration has been unclear on how they plan to proceed.