The day after the election, President Obama announced that he and congressional leaders would sit down and hash things out on Nov. 18th. If you listen to Republicans on the Hill, that was a premature announcement: they’d liked to have been consulted first before picking a date. If you ask Democrats, that’s poppycock: Obama moved his foreign travel schedule just to accommodate the meeting. Whomever’s to be believed, the so-called slurpee summit has been postponed until the week after Thanksgiving.
The White House was careful to portray the scheduling snafu as a simple mishap that had no deeper meaning. “Bipartisanship has happened,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said of the meeting. “We’re flexible. We’re ready to sit down tomorrow, or on the 30th.”
On the record, Republicans were equally as cordial. “We look forward to meeting with the President to discuss the American peoples’ priorities: stopping the tax hikes, cutting spending, and helping small businesses create jobs,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker-elect John Boehner.
On background, Senate and House GOP aides were less happy with the White House. “The White House did not ask Congressional Leaders before announcing the 18th, and it was never feasible for Congressional Leaders of either party,” said one top aide. “We have privately told the White House that all along. Frankly, the White House dropped the ball on this, first by announcing a date before it was agreed to, and then – when we were trying to fix it – they went incommunicado for ten days during the President’s trip to Asia. This last-minute scramble is entirely their fault.”
Others were still smarting from what they perceived as unfair treatment from the commander-in-chief, particularly his public spanking at their Baltimore retreat last fall. This time around they’re hoping for more of a dialogue and less of an indictment – particularly given the results of the election. “If I were the president, I’d figure out what the Democratic position was on taxes before having a summit,” said another senior leadership aide. “Unless it’s another photo op summit — which it appears to have been. Delaying it increases the likelihood it will be more substantive.”
Clearly, the lines of communication have not gotten off to a good start between the White House and GOP leaders. Back in the times of FDR and Harry S. Truman, the president and congressional leaders met bi-monthly, no matter which party controlled Congress. This tradition continued on and off until the Clinton era on the belief that like in any marriage, you talk to your wife every two weeks even if you think there’s nothing to say.
There’s a lot of mistrust in Washington right now. “There is simply no basis for meaningful bipartisan leadership meetings today,” Brookings scholar and congressional expert Thomas Mann told me. “Republicans are determined to defeat Obama in 2012; they have no interest in negotiating with him in order to provide him any sort of victory. This is a partisan war and the Republicans are playing to win. The only question is how long it will take Obama to accept this reality and act accordingly.”
In his acceptance speech today after his conference voted to elect him speaker unanimously, Boehner said: “The job of the next Speaker is to work to restore the institution… restore it to being the People’s House,” he said. “For the good of our nation, and the hopes and dreams of future generations, we have to get this right. We’re going to move ahead with humility… cheerful in our demeanor, and steady in our principles…. always mindful that the power we hold is entrusted to us by our fellow countrymen and the nation we serve.”
Perhaps as a first step in restoring the lines of communication – if this is truly the goal of both sides — might I suggest the slurpee summit become a monthly or even bi-monthly tradition?