The remarks come at a time when Congress is stumped on how best to pass a broad health reform package after Democrats lost a crucial 60th vote in the Senate last month.
“I know these are tough times to hold public office,” Obama acknowledged, citing “anger and anguish” among voters across the country. “I think the natural political instinct is to tread lightly, keep your head down and play it safe.”
But the president urged the often-factious Democratic caucus to do the opposite, saying it would pay off down the road.
“We've got to finish the job, even though it's hard,” he said to applause.
In the 90-minute exchange, Obama shouldered some of the blame for the lost ground on healthcare, including the perception that legislation was hashed out behind closed doors.
He said the process “looked painful and messy” at times, and in the end “some of the transparency got lost. And I think we paid a price for it.”
Several Democrats who face tough re-election fights were called on during a question and answer period, including Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Evan Bayh of Indiana. But the questions skirted the larger health reform effort.
The session stands in stark contrast to only a week ago, when Obama faced a House Republicans in a terse but politically-remarkable exchange that focused on healthcare as well as several other Democrat-led initiatives.
“As we think about moving forward, I hope we don't lose sight of why we're here,” Obama said.
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