Obama has been busy of late courting Republicans, perhaps responding to criticisms that he has been slow in using the power of the presidency to do more back-slapping. So on Wednesday night, the president sat down with a bunch of House Democrats for a sumptuous back-slapping dinner at a hotel near the White House that lasted much longer than expected—about two and a half hours.
The dinner guests were Obama with Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader, and nine members of her leadership team—Representatives Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, Xavier Becerra of California, Joseph Crowley of New York, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Robert E. Andrews of New Jersey, Steve Israel of New York and Mike Thompson of California.
The meal took place at the Jefferson Hotel, the same venue where he treated a dozen Republican senators in early March. Since the meeting in March, according to the New York Times, the president has had separate dinners with a second group of a 12 Republican senators and some Democratic senators; lunch with Rep. Paul D. Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the Budget Committee; and, on Monday, a golf outing with two Republican senators and one Democratic senator.
The president famously joked about these efforts at the White House Correspondents Association gala last month.
“Recently, I had dinner – it’s been well publicized – I had dinner with a number of the Republican senators,” Obama said. “And I’ll admit it wasn’t easy. I proposed a toast. It died in committee.
“Of course, even after I’ve done all this, some folks still don’t think I spend enough time with Congress. ” he added. “‘Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask. Really? Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?”
In response, McConnell reportedly said, “I’m shocked. He’s obviously not seeing my soft side.”
Since the Republicans control the House, there is little benefit to the president spending time wooing Democrats who are virtually powerless. But in the eyes of the House Democrats, if the president is ever going to reach a grand bargain with Republicans on spending cuts and tax increases, it will not pass in the House without their votes. They also stress that their support is essential if Obama is going to pass any of the measures pertaining to immigration and gun control.
After the dinner, the White House released a statement saying the group had discussed those two issues and others, including continued federal assistance in the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15.
Obama discussed his “ongoing efforts to find common ground with both sides to reduce our deficit in a balanced way.”