Governors’ White House visit includes hints of 2016 campaign

WASHINGTON – As President Obama hosted the nation’s governors at the White House twice in 24 hours, he couldn’t help but tease some of the more ambitious state leaders about their plans.

Toasting the governors at an annual formal dinner in the State Dining Room on Sunday, he said he wanted his guests “to make sure that all of you make yourselves at home.”

“To which I’m sure some of you are thinking: That’s been the plan all along,” he said.


The early – well, it’s never too early – presidential posturing turned what was traditionally a bipartisan visit into a platform for partisan warfare.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), speaking before a bank of microphones Monday near the West Wing, accused Obama of “waving the white flag of surrender” when it comes to improving the nation’s economy.

“The Obama economy is now the minimum-wage economy,” Jindal said in response to a question about Obama’s plan to raise the minimum wage. “I think we can do better than that; I think America can do better than that.”

Jindal also urged the president to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, saying it was one way Republicans would support him in his plan to use his “pen and phone” strategy to go around Congress.

His comments drew a rebuke from Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D), who noted that, until then, the bipartisan news conference had gone “down a pretty cooperative road.”

“You just heard what I think ended up being probably the most partisan statement that we’ve had all weekend,” Malloy said, stating his support for a minimum-wage increase while calling Jindal’s “white flag” comment “the most insane statement I’ve ever heard.”

But Jindal quickly stepped back to the microphones to call on Obama to delay the remaining mandates called for in the Affordable Care Act.

“The president was very gracious in meeting with us,” Jindal said. “Bipartisan doesn’t mean, though, that we have to ignore our real substantive philosophical differences.”

A handful of Democratic governors – Martin O’Malley of Maryland, Jay Nixon of Missouri and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts – are keeping their options open for 2016, with at least the latter two likely to run only if Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton does not.

But Republican governors are more conspicuously in the presidential mix, and Jindal was among those using this weekend in Washington to build the case that the party would be best served nominating an executive rather than a member of Congress to run for president.

Jindal appeared to be stepping into a void created by the absence of Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), the chairman of the Republican Governors Assn., and seizing an opportunity to seek support among conservatives by attacking the president in his own front yard.

Jindal, the RGA’s vice chairman, later told reporters at a separate news conference that he didn’t know what he’d be doing in 2016.

“One of the things I am doing is working to win the war of ideas,” he said.

Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas), who may make a second run for the presidency, hewed to his familiar case against federal overreach into state interests.

“We all compete against each other, we are the laboratories of innovation, and for the president of the United States to look Democrat and Republican governors in the eye and to say, ‘I do not trust you to make decisions in your state about issues of education, about transportation infrastructure,’ that is really troubling,” he said.

During the White House meeting Monday, governors also discussed possible cuts in funding for the nation’s armed services and urged the administration to limit the impact on National Guard units.

“The president pointed out that there is going to have to be significant cuts in the budget,” said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R-Iowa). “We, as commander in chiefs of the National Guard in our state, working with our adjutant generals, believe that the buildup that occurred after 9/11 was primarily in the regular Army, and that’s why we think the reduction should be primarily in the regular Army.”

Obama, in remarks to the governors before a private question-and-answer session, said there was an opportunity for his administration to work with governors to reform job-training programs, among other areas.

“My hope is, is that despite this being an election year, that there will be occasions where both parties determine that it makes sense to actually get some things done in this town,” he said. “But wherever I can work on my own to expand opportunity for more Americans, I’m going to do that. And I am absolutely convinced that the time is right to partner with the states and governors all across the country on these agendas, because I know that you guys are doing some terrific work in your own states.”

And, as he did Sunday, Obama teased those who might be eyeing the job he now holds. “I enjoyed watching some of you with your eyes on higher office size up the drapes,” Obama joked, before adding: “And each other.”

Twitter: @MikeMemoli