WASHINGTON — President Obama praised several Republican lawmakers at a press event in Virginia Thursday, congratulating them for crossing the aisle and helping create legislation reforming the Veterans Administration he then sat down and signed into law.
It was a rare sight in modern Washington, and it sounded, well, bizarre. Obama himself noted the strangeness of the moment, quipping while signing the bill into law that he's "out of practice" when it comes to signing legislation.
"This feels good," Obama said. "You know, I don't get enough practice at this."
In an alternate universe, more Obama events would sound like the one the president hosted at Fort Belvoir, an Army base in suburban Virginia. In recent weeks, Obama's public appearances have featured the president openly mocking Republicans for the gridlock that's helped produce the least-productive Congress in generations.
The difference was stark. Late last month, Obama said the Republicans were "hating all the time" and ripped the House for voting to sue him over his executive actions.
At Fort Belvoir, Obama was markedly more friendly to the Republicans in the room who helped craft the bipartisan Veteran's Administration reform package, which was spurred on by the lingering wait list scandal at the agency in charge of delivering health care to former members of the armed services.
"I want to thank all the members of Congress who are here today, and I especially want to thank those who led the fight to give [new VA Secretary Robert McDonald] and the VA more of the resources and flexibility that they need to make sure every veteran has access to the care and benefits that they've earned," Obama said.
Obama called the bill "a good deal," and noted it "passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan majorities, and that doesn't happen often in Congress."
Obama then gave the Republicans who helped craft the bill along with Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee, a shoutout by name.
While he was using the multiple pens to sign his name to the legislation typical of a bill singing, Obama commented further on how extraordinary the moment was — and ribbed the Republicans just a little.
"We should do this more often," Obama said.