He's been hit by Democrats and the press for being aloof and anti-social, a president with a leaden touch even when it comes to his friends. But in just two sentences about House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi yesterday during an address to House Democrats holding a retreat in Leesburg, Va., he moved to change that old image.

"I love Nancy Pelosi," he said. Then, tapping into "Grandma Mimi's" real passion, he won the crowd over, saying, "She generates good-looking grandbabies. They're all so handsome and sharp and beautiful."

Speaking off-the-cuff, he indirectly acknowledged criticism that he does not socialize enough, telling the 49 new House Democrats, "I am looking forward to spending time with all 49 of you. And hopefully we'll be seeing you over at the White House and at various events."

It was a display of a down-to-earth, at times humorous, president that aides say is common behind closed doors but not often flashed in public. Obama even lightened up on his gun control mantra, noting that "there are regional differences here and we should respect those, and guns mean something different for somebody who grew up on a farm in a rural community than somebody who grew up in an inner city and they're different realities and we have to respect them."

And at the end, Obama joked that he might pay attention to his critics in the future. "There will be times when you guys are mad at me," he said. "And I'll occasionally read about it," he added to laughter.