03/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama On Republicans: 'I'm An Optimist, Not A Sap'

In an interview with columnists aboard Air Force One, President Obama talked about what he learned from the stimulus battle. Pronouncing himself impressed with his team for moving the legislation through Congress so quickly, he said the plan wasn't everything he wanted but was still a "very good start on moving things forward."

As for his experience with congressional Republicans, the president said, "I made every effort to reach out to Republicans early to get their input and to get their buy-in. I think that there were some senators and House members who have a sincere philosophical difference with the idea of any government role in boosting demand in the economy. They don't believe in [John Maynard] Keynes and they're still fighting FDR ... I think we can disagree without being disagreeable on that front."

He added that the GOP also made a "political and tactical" decision to oppose the stimulus as a way to rally their base. "Whether that's a smart strategy, I think you should ask them." He said that it was his impression that the House Republicans decided to vote party-line against the bill before he met with them. "I'm not sure that there was a whole host of things that we were going to do that was going to make a difference." (Republicans dispute that interpretation, claiming they were open to the stimulus when they met with Obama.)

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said recently that Obama lost control of the stimulus debate by focusing too much on bipartisanship.

Asked if he would be so willing to reach out to Republicans in the future, the president responded, "You know, I am an eternal optimist. That doesn't mean I'm a sap."

Looking more forward, the president also outlined his priorities for the rest of the year:

My priorities for the rest of the year. Number one is to get the right structure for the successor to TARP; spending the $300-some billion that has already been authorized as wisely as possible, and injecting transparency and trust into the financial system. Having a housing program that provides relief to people who are at risk of losing their homes. Financial regulations that ensure that the crisis doesn't happen again. A innovative and aggressive push for health care reform that focuses not just on access but also on costs, and trying to just provide relief to working families. And a push for an energy policy that puts us on a path to sustainability.