WASHINGTON — Republicans sent mixed signals after President Barack Obama challenged them to participate in a one-of-a-kind televised summit with Democrats to come up with health care legislation.
House Republicans derided the Feb. 25 event, casting doubt on whether it would produce any bipartisan agreement to extend coverage to millions of people and rein in medical costs.
"Are they willing to start over with a blank sheet of paper?" said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio. "We need answers before we know if the White House is more interested in partisan theater than in facilitating a productive dialogue about solutions."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was more receptive, saying he would work with the White House "to maximize the effectiveness of the meeting."
The summit is considered a last, best attempt to revive Obama's yearlong health overhaul quest, now stalled after Democrats lost their filibuster-proof Senate majority.
Some in the GOP wondered if it would be nothing but a spectacle that could benefit the president at their expense. By presiding over a meeting with three dozen lawmakers trying to get a word in edgewise, Obama may be able to dominate the conversation and the visual images. That's what many Democrats say he did at a Jan. 29 session when he faced a roomful of GOP House members in Baltimore.
In its invitation, the White House named 21 lawmakers the president wants to attend the summit: the top leaders in the House and Senate and of the committees with jurisdiction over the health legislation. Obama also invited the top four leaders to invite four more lawmakers each, bringing the total to 37 — 20 Democrats and 17 Republicans.