Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press
President Barack Obama reaches across the table to shake hands with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., second from left, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., back to the camera, during a dinner for a group of bipartisan Congressional leaders and ranking members and their spouses at the White House, Monday, May 2, 2011, in Washington.
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama urged lawmakers Monday to "harness some of that unity" washing over the nation after Osama bin Laden's death and carry it into the contentious debates awaiting them over federal spending, the debt and other issues.
At a White House dinner for members of Congress, Obama acknowledged past disagreements and predicted future ones. But he said bin Laden's demise served was a reminder that what the country can achieve transcends party labels.
"Last night, as Americans learned that the United States had carried out an operation that resulted in the capture and death of Osama bin Laden, I think we experienced the same sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11," he said, urging that that spirit continue.
Upon hearing bin Laden's name, lawmakers of both parties interrupted the president with a standing ovation and whistles. Among the Republicans who rose to their feet were House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Obama has been sharply critical of Ryan's 2012 budget plan.
"We were reminded again that there is a pride in what this nation stands for and what we can achieve that runs far deeper than party, far deeper than politics," Obama said.
Obama said he knows the unity that permeated the country after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks orchestrated by bin Laden has "frayed a little bit over the years" and said he has "no illusions" about the difficulties of the debates awaiting them. He noted other moments this year that brought the country together, including the January assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.
He added bin Laden's death to that list.
"So tonight, it is my fervent hope that we can harness some of that unity and some of that pride to confront the many challenges that we still face," he said.
The dinner, for the bipartisan congressional leadership and key committee leaders, was hosted by Obama and his wife, Michelle. It included Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, as well as Cabinet members and senior White House aides.
Associated Press writer Stacy A. Anderson contributed to this report.