WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton tried to reclaim attention for his agenda Tuesday with his first prime-time news conference since Republicans seized control of Congress. But the event generated little enthusiasm among broadcast networks.

The East Room session was portrayed by White House aides in advance as an effort, with Congress out of town, to stake out new ground for the battles following the GOP's 100-day drive.

Clinton is challenging Congress to complete its work on welfare reform by July 4, said presidential spokesman Mike McCurry.

He also said Clinton would announce that two additional states _ Missouri and Montana _ have been granted waivers to give them more flexibility to develop their own welfare programs. That brings the number of states with such waivers to 27.

McCurry said Clinton would open the news conference with a statement contrasting his welfare plan with one a House-passed version that Clinton has threatened to veto.

Of the broadcast networks, both ABC and NBC said they had decided not to air the event live. CBS said only hours before the news conference that it would carry it. CNN and C-Span planned to carry the event live.

``Naturally we are somewhat disappointed that many of the commercial networks are not airing the news conference,'' McCurry said. But, he added, ``We're confident that he will have an audience that is well worth the occasion.''

That meant Clinton had the same network coverage than House Speaker Newt Gingrich got earlier in the month in an address to the nation. CBS, CNN and C-Span carried that address live.

While it was extraordinary for a speaker of the House to command any free network air time, presidents have traditionally been able to get such time from all the networks.

It was Clinton's first evening meeting with reporters since Aug. 3 _ and only the fourth of his presidency.

``The president has rarely chosen to go before the country,'' McCurry said. ``We are clearly doing so in part at this point because Congress is out, like the cherry blossoms. We have an opportunity ... to help shape the agenda as the Congress and the president think through solutions to the country's problems.''

Clinton has portrayed the battle over welfare reform as a top item for the nation's next 100 days.

He criticizes the GOP-sponsored bill passed by the House _ which would deny benefits to children born to teen-age mothers _ as being too harsh on children and failing to provide programs stressing return to work.

Clinton's welfare plan would set a two-year limit on payments, impose strict work requirements, deny driver's licenses to parents who refuse to pay child support and give states more flexibility in coming up with their own welfare-to-work programs.

Clinton has put welfare overhaul, limited tax cuts for the middle class and an anti-crime measure that preserves last year's assault-weapons ban at the top of what he has called his ``must list.''

He has also vowed to veto, unless modified, legislation to cut education and child nutrition programs, to roll back regulatory power and to make it harder to pursue civil lawsuits by making losers pay court costs.

The White House has been seeking to capitalize on recent public opinion polls that suggest many Americans are uneasy about the scope of some of the items in the GOP ``Contract with America.''