WASHINGTON — President Obama on Monday beseeched the nation’s governors to partner with him on elements of his agenda to help the middle class in the face of congressional gridlock, saying there was room for collaboration on economic issues, health care, and criminal justice reform.
“I’m in the fourth quarter of my presidency — or, as some of you might call it, the kickoff for your campaign season — but I think there’s still a lot that we can get done together,” Obama told the governors Monday at the White House, where they were wrapping up their winter meeting.
He said it was time to “move past some of the habits of manufactured crisis and self-inflicted wounds” that he said had been created by Congress, including the looming threat of a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security because of a dispute over Obama’s recent immigration directives.
“It will have a direct impact on your economy, and it will have a direct impact on America’s national security,” Obama said of a lapse in funding for the department, in which the staff would be furloughed or forced to work without pay. “Their hard work helps to keep us safe, and as governors, you know that we can’t afford to play politics with our national security.”
The president also thanked the governors from both parties who have expanded their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act, and he made a pitch to those who have not changed their stances.
“I’d urge you to consider it, because our team is prepared to work with you to make it happen,” Obama said.
There is room for governors to work with the White House on elements of his agenda “even when Congress does not act or does not act fast enough,” Obama said.
He cited criminal justice changes as an example, noting that in Georgia, the Republican governor, Nathan Deal, has provided judges with alternatives to mandatory minimum sentences.
In addition to the standoff over funding the Department of Homeland Security, a looming Supreme Court case that could strike down health insurance subsidies for millions of people dominated the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.
Obama did not mention the case, but he did urge governors from states that have not expanded Medicaid under the law to take that step.
‘‘We can all agree that it’s a good thing when a family doesn’t lose a home because a member of that family gets sick,’’ he said.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who chairs the association, said the governors expected to avoid divisive issues at their meeting with Obama, focusing instead on subjects such as trade deals, workforce development, education, and infrastructure.
‘‘When we go to the president our goal is to try to be more constructive,’’ he said ahead of the meeting.
Obama, too, struck an optimistic tone as he addressed the governors. He declared that the United States is ‘‘as well-positioned as we’ve been in a very long time’’ and praised the governors for doing ‘‘creative work to enhance the opportunities for advancement of their citizens.’’
Republicans made major gains during the midterm elections and now control 31 of the country’s governors’ man-sions.