Governors split with Obama on many issues ahead of W.H. meeting

Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La. and his wife Supriya (L) speak with senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett during the 2014 Governors Dinner in the State Dining Room of the White House February 23, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

The National Governors Association (NGA) brings the nation’s governors together each year for a meeting that often includes some bipartisan bonhomie, but major issues ahead in 2014 look to divide these executives more than they unite them.

From guns to marijuana to the Affordable Care Act, it’s hard to find a consensus issue for both parties' governors these days. And that will be on full display when some Republican governors push the president toward their ideas when they meet with him Monday.

“This president feels like he can act unilaterally. He feels like with the pen and the phone he can make decisions without Congress, I don’t necessarily agree with that, but if he’s going to make those decisions, why doesn't he do things,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., Sunday on CBS News' "Face the Nation," referencing the president’s pledge to use a phone and a pen to advance his agenda without the help of Congress.

"If President Obama is determined to use his executive power to the fullest, we ask at least that he will use the power of the phone and pen to free the American people from the yoke of excess regulation, to open up new avenues for investment and education, and to give the economy the jumpstart it needs," Jindal added later in a statement sent to reporters.

Jindal, who is number two at the Republican Governors Association (RGA), will lead the charge for the GOP since chairman Chris Christie, R-N.J., returned home to celebrate his daughter’s birthday.

The Sunday shows featured governors sparring on a variety of issues, in a sign of the increasing polarization in their everyday lives. In three quarters of the states, the legislature and governor’s seat are controlled by the same party.

On the issue of guns, Connecticut’s Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy argued in favor of universal background checks.

“I think we have a federal problem in the sense that we are rejecting the idea that we should have tighter controls on who has a gun. Universal background checks would make everyone safer in their states and in mine,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, pushed back on that idea said the Second Amendment as “pretty much is a good amendment,” and said restrictions in northeastern states have pushed gun manufacturers away.

There were disagreements also on the death penalty, with Republican Govs. Jay Nixon of Missouri and Mike Pence of Indiana agreeing with Perry that it was an important tool, and only Malloy, a Democrat, saying he didn’t support it. 

The states are approaching marijuana policy in different ways as well, and over on “Fox News Sunday,” Vermont Democrat Peter Shumlin and Wisconsin Republican Scott Walker rehashed arguments about Obamacare and the expansion of the Medicaid program.

Broadly, the governors still agree that states should have leeway to make decisions about which policies are right for them. And over the course of the meeting, they have been quick to criticize inaction in Washington.

"While Washington remains in gridlock, we find that our governors are doing their part to work together, in collaboration, to share best practices on how we can grow our economy,” said NGA Chairman and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, at a news conference Saturday.

Pence said the message he would take to the White House Monday is a request for “more freedom and more flexibility” on issues ranging from health care to transportation to education.

“I truly believe that the cure for what ails this country will come more from our nation's state capitals than it ever will from our nation's capital,” he said.

This is a message that has been taken up by the RGA. On “Face the Nation,” Jindal argued that the states are the real places to see conservative principles at work.

“You see governors, for example, in Florida and Ohio and South Carolina and Michigan, state after state with Republican governors, you see the unemployment rate going down, you see private sector jobs being created, you see Republican governors taking on public pension reform to tackle long-term debt. You see Republican governors embracing school choice and tenure reforms. You see Republican governors cutting taxes, creating good jobs, balancing our budgets, doing fiscally responsible thing,” he said.

 But Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, said on "Face the Nation" that there is actually a divide between “ideologues that have taken over the once proud party of Abraham Lincoln” and other lawmakers who want to work on issues like raising the debt ceiling and passing an immigration reform bill.

“Shutting our country down does not help job growth. Selling America short does not help us build a better future for our kids, and these are the things that the tea party Republicans have brought to our Congress and made it very difficult for Mr. Boehner even to enact the sort of reasonable compromises that all of us took for granted in years past,” O’Malley said.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for