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Obama to promote his agenda to House Democrats

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is promoting his second-term agenda to House Democrats, eager to keep them unified as a bulwark against a Republican majority on issues as diverse as the economy, immigration and guns.

Obama was meeting with Democratic lawmakers Thursday during their retreat in Lansdowne, Va., a day after he held a closed-door session with Senate Democrats at their off-campus conference in Annapolis, Md.

The meetings with legislators from his own party come just days before Obama's State of the Union address next Tuesday to a joint session of Congress. This week's meetings have served as something of a preamble for that nationally televised speech.

Obama was to deliver public remarks to the House members and then take questions in a private session, officials said.

White House officials say that Obama's top priority is job creation and that he will make a case for fiscal policies that encourage economic growth. Setting up a contrast with Republicans who are insisting on spending cuts, not tax increases, to stanch federal red ink, Obama told reporters Tuesday, "We can't just cut our way to prosperity."

Obama met privately for more than two hours Wednesday with Senate Democrats. The White House said the president spoke briefly, took questions from 10 of the senators assembled, then spent an hour chatting with them in smaller groups. Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney, said the session was focused on coordinating what Democratic senators are doing with the administration's own efforts to promote Obama's priorities.

The meeting with House Democrats follows Wednesday's vote in the Republican-controlled House that would require the president to submit a budget that balances the federal ledger. The bill was symbolic, meant as a taunt to the president. It has little chance in the Senate but, still, 26 House Democrats voted for it.

In the Senate, Democrats hold the majority and can be far more effective at driving Obama's legislative agenda. But a unified Democratic caucus in the House is critical on issues that might divide Republicans, such as an overhaul of immigration laws or even some fiscal policies.

Carney has said Obama and lawmakers have made "significant progress" toward a bipartisan deal on immigration. The Senate has taken the lead assembling comprehensive legislation, including a path to citizenship for the nation's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.

Gun control has been a thornier issue. Many Democrats are reluctant to embrace Obama's call for banning certain weapons. But Obama has argued that other proposals, such as universal background checks, have broad public support.

Vice President Joe Biden, addressing lawmakers at the retreat Wednesday, told them they can support the measures he and Obama are proposing without fear they'll be booted from office. He urged them not to learn the wrong lesson from the 1994 election, when Democrats lost control of Congress after supporting a ban on assault weapons that has since expired.

"I'm here to tell you the world has changed," Biden said. "Public attitudes have changed since 1994. Social media has changed. The ability to misrepresent our positions has changed."

On fiscal issues, Obama on Tuesday called on Congress to pass a short-term package of spending cuts and tax revenue to give lawmakers time to negotiate a broader deficit-reduction deal and to avoid deep spending cuts that are set to automatically kick in on March 1.

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