WASHINGTON President Barack Obama gave his strongest signal yet that he is willing to compromise on key priorities in a step toward the center that raised pressure on Republicans to meet him halfway.
The president is trying to salvage his top domestic priorities, healthcare and energy, from collapsing into an election-year heap while also seeking support for a multibillion-dollar jobs bill and a commission to launch a rigorous review of how to reduce America's soaring deficits.
The fact that Obama broke his self-imposed, seven-month ban on solo news conferences was proof of the political predicament in which he finds himself -- trying to get some parts of his expansive agenda passed before Washington grinds to a halt ahead of November congressional elections.
Obama laid down what he considers the rules for a February 25 White House summit with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders -- be ready to negotiate on jobs, healthcare and other issues, including stalled financial regulatory reform.
"I'm willing to move off some of the preferences of my party in order to meet them halfway, but there's got to be some give from their side as well," Obama said.
His comments also sent a message to his own Democrats that they too will have to compromise their principles if gridlock in Washington is to be broken.
Democratic strategist Doug Schoen, who worked in the Clinton White House, said that while it appeared Obama is "getting the religion of bipartisanship a little late," he did put pressure on Republicans to act in kind.
"They can't just be intransigent. They have to engage," he said.
Republicans were pleased the president expressed a willingness to consider their ideas after a year in which they were all but shut out of the legislative process by Democrats.
But Republicans were suspicious that Obama was trying to lay a trap for them -- make compromises or be cast as obstructionists.
And they are in little mood to make any major concessions, hoping their capture of a Senate seat in Massachusetts last month is only one of many big gains they can make in November elections against Democratic majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.
Republicans promised to attend the February 25 summit to outline proposals for reducing healthcare costs and expanding care. But they were skeptical Democrats would give up the sweeping goals of healthcare bills already on the table.
"We're not interested in a dog-and-pony show to trumpet failed bills that, in fact, the Democrats can't even pass right now," said Eric Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican.
Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, said Obama's willingness to compromise on healthcare suggests he realizes the Democratic legislation is not popular with Americans.
"What the president is doing here, he sends the message that 'we don't have the votes to pass it.' It's almost a sign of no-confidence in the Democratic leadership," Black said.
On energy, Obama expressed a willingness to agree to Republican priorities on expanding nuclear energy, offshore drilling and clean coal technology as a way of creating jobs, if they would agree to his priorities of enhancing alternative energies such as wind and solar.
"We had a good meeting with the president, and, what I'd like to emphasize is there are some areas of potential agreement," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
But there is a long way to go, and there was one telling comment from Obama about the price of saying no.
"I won't hesitate to embrace a good idea from my friends in the minority party, but I also won't hesitate to condemn what I consider to be obstinacy that's rooted not in substantive disagreements but in political expedience," he said.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)