Biden lauds 'bipartisan progress' as he dines with governors

WASHINGTON, Feb 11 (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden appealed to Republican and Democratic governors on Saturday to continue working across political divides to improve Americans' lives and rebuild the economy after the hardships brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking at a black-tie dinner at the White House, attended by Vice President Kamala Harris and 31 governors, Biden said the passage of laws on investing in infrastructure and domestic manufacture of semiconductors was evidence of "some bipartisan progress" among Republicans and Democrats.

"I hope we're going to get a little bit - I'm going to try - a little bit less partisan and work on things that we can really get done to change people's lives," Biden said after governor meetings in Washington this week.

Biden said he was still "ready to fight, as you all are", and though Republicans and Democrats would not always agree, it made a difference when they worked together.

Republican Governor Spencer Cox of Utah, vice-chair of the National Governors Association, said it was "very symbolic" to have Republicans and Democrats "breaking bread together" at the White House.

Cox added that he believed the majority of Americans wanted to see more collaboration across the political aisle.

"This is what is missing in our country," he said, adding that "it's hard to hate up close".

Notably absent from the dinner was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican who has challenged Biden's agenda on a wide range of fronts, from gun safety to LGBTQ rights.

Country music singer Brad Paisley played guitar and performed his song "American Saturday Night" after the dinner, telling the crowd he had swapped out the second line of the song "because it mentioned Russia and I don't do that any more".

Instead, he sang: "She's got Brazilian leather boots on the pedal of a German car. There's a Ukrainian flag hanging up behind the bar."

Biden's remarks echoed his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday, in which he challenged Republicans to help to unite the country.

The bipartisan laws passed last year were game changers for the U.S. economy, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat who chairs the association, told reporters on Friday after the series of governor meetings at the White House.

Murphy said the ability of the states to work together on other issues, such as mental health, disproved the "narrative that politics has gotten completely divisive" and called the association a "beacon of bipartisan reality".

He said the group had appealed to lawmakers and the White House to end a dispute over raising the $31.4 trillion statutory debt ceiling before Treasury runs out of funds to pay U.S. debts.

Republicans want spending concessions from Biden, who has said he will not negotiate over raising the limit.

Murphy said he left the meetings "more optimistic" about both sides' willingness to negotiate while preserving social security, medicare and defense spending.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal Editing by Clarence Fernandez and David Goodman

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