Exhibit A in the new attitude of the Obama administration is the dinner he was scheduled to have at the fancy Jefferson Hotel, down the street from the White House, with a group of Republican senators that did not include the official leaders, like Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader.
White House officials say this is part of the President’s effort to see if there’s common ground he might be able to find with rank-and-file Senate members on the budget impasse. Now that the election is over and the sequester cuts have been ordered, the White House feels there is time and space for the two sides to perhaps get something bigger done.
“For the first time in a while there is not a terrible looming budget deadline or a looming election,” the administration official told the Huffington Post. “There is no countdown clock on MSNBC, no one wondering how much time there is on a legislative calendar to pass a fix.”
Of course, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have complained over the years that Obama doesn’t do enough schmoozing with Congress. But considering how much Republicans in Congress gleefully report to their constituents every time they oppose the president or make him look bad, Obama never had much incentive to make nice with lawmakers from the other side of the aisle.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said he’d be open to finding $600 billion in new revenue from closing tax loopholes if the administration would agree to entitlement cuts. This is what the White House has wanted to hear, instead of the Republicans in the House not even considering looking at taxes.
“A bunch of them are out there saying the right things,” said the White House official. What Graham said, the official added, “is exactly what we are proposing. And ostensibly it is not unreasonable to think there are other Republicans who think the right thing, too.”
The official also said the White House was surprised that the information about what the President was proposing was not making it down to the rank-and-file, based on a Washington Post story by Ezra Klein.
“There are a lot of Republicans who probably don’t know what we have put on the table,” the White House official told the Huffington Post. “I don’t know if the White House website isn’t loading properly or if they are not reading the AP . . . but if we need to sit down with these folks over a fancy sea bass to educate them about what we are offering, we are willing to do it.”
According to the Huffington Post, the senators being wooed by the president Wednesday night include Graham, John McCain (R-Ariz.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.).
On Tuesday, McConnell said he didn’t mind if Obama went out to dinner with his members. The president is also expected to use the dinner to talk about other issues, such as gun and immigration reform.
“Well, I expect the President to talk to various members,” he said. “Frankly, I wish he’d done more of that over the years. We’ve had, all of us, very limited interaction with the President. And he certainly doesn’t have to go through me to call my members, and I’m sure he will, and I encourage him to do so.”