President Obama’s New Meal Ticket Strategy

Through meeting and eating, the spirit of Washington is shifting, and the commonalities between the two parties are taking center stage for the first time in several years.

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Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Senator John McCain flashes a thumbs-up when asked by a reporter about how the Jefferson Hotel dinner went with President Barack Obama and a group of fellow Republican senators on March 6, 2013.

President Obama appeared at a loss one week ago as he stood before his press corps. “What more do you think I should do?” he snapped at a reporter, after being asked if he shared responsibility for the harmful budgetary gridlock in Washington. “I’ve offered negotiations around that kind of balanced approach. And so far, we’ve gotten rebuffed.”

Those were his words. But his actions suggested he already knew there was something else he could do. Within days, he started phoning, meeting and eating with his foes, and things have been looking up ever since. Not since Obama came into office in 2009 has there been so many bipartisan vibes between Republicans and the White House. In a remarkable few days, months of rising bitterness seem to be slipping away. Temperatures have been lowered. Political rhetoric has been replaced by cagey optimism. The infuriating posturing that is the daily bread of so much Washington conversation, not to mention the campaign-style speeches of Obama in the heartland, has been largely put on hold.

House Speaker John Boehner, who has spent years whipping conservatives into outrage at the President’s behavior, has said he is “hopeful.” White House spokesman Jay Carney says the President has called the talks “very constructive and very pleasant.” Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, a conservative deal maker who spent a good chunk of January publicly questioning the President’s truthfulness, has begun talking like a big deal on fiscal issues of taxation, spending and deficits could happen. “I think there are areas where we could reach common ground, I think that is possible, but it’s not going to happen over one dinner,” he said Wednesday. “This was a beginning of a process and there’s a lot of work left to do.”

In January, the President himself downplayed the usefulness of building personal bonds with his opponents in Congress. “When I’m over here at the congressional picnic and folks are coming up and taking pictures with their family, I promise you, Michelle and I are very nice to them and we have a wonderful time,” Obama said at his first press conference after the election. “But it doesn’t prevent them from going onto the floor of the House and blasting me for being a big-spending socialist.”

But now the President has become social in a big way. He called a raft of Senators for private conversations over the weekend and on Monday, people like Tennessee’s Bob Corker, Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn, and Ohio’s Rob Portman. He dined at the posh Jefferson Hotel on Wednesday night with 12 Republicans senators, who left the event flashing thumbs-up gestures to the gathered press. On Thursday, he had lunch with the House Republican’s budget guru, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, and his democratic counterpart, Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen. And then there was the meeting that predated the President’s exasperation in the briefing room, with Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham. “It’s one of the best meetings I’ve ever had with the President,” Graham gushed after words, a claim that was confirmed by White House aides.

Next week, he plans to keep up the dining-diplomacy by heading up to Capitol Hill, where he will meet Senate Republicans over lunch, and he has also requested a similar meeting with House Republicans. As a strategy, it is a far cry from Obama’s most recent negotiations with House and Senate leaders, which often in private meetings between himself and John Boehner, or with his staff, Vice President Joe Biden, or Senate Democrats as intermediaries.

Most of those negotiations, in the summer of 2011 and in December of 2012, ended in frustration and failure. This new spate of good vibes may go the same way in the end. Neither side has signaled a change from their negotiating position on the most difficult issues. But the spirit of the city is shifting, and the commonalities between the two parties, for the first time in several years, are taking center stage. This is how Washington once worked. The nation now waits to find out if it can work this way again.

Additional reporting by Alex Altman

34 comments
DANIELP67365960
DANIELP67365960


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paulejb
paulejb

Sure hope the boys ate 2% less in honor of the sequester.

reallife
reallife

he's taking the Republicans out to dinner while the poor little children are starving due to the sequester?

where is the liberal compassion?


Curious_Quiche
Curious_Quiche

I am always irrationally hopeful that these dinner things will have a Jehu/Priests of Baal dynamic. Always disappointed. However, if the President can pull a bipartisan pearl off of the necklace the Republicans clutch so fiercely, I will progress from disappointment to astonishment without passing GO or collecting 200 dollars.

KountyKobbler
KountyKobbler

As they snack together  remeber  their is no free lunch for the kids in school?  while millionaire Elected officials pass the meat and potatoes  in Congresss.

Student
Student

@ipolisci Maybe. Sounds a little like back-door Green Lantern theory.

lurch
lurch

So, Obama is pretty much holding out the 'olive branch' again like he did when he was first elected, when the Republicans kept slapping it out of his hand. 

Maybe, just maybe, the GOP have read the writing on the wall. People are sick and tired of their hysterics & refusal of any & every proposal the President suggests.

grape_crush
grape_crush

> But the spirit of the city is shifting, and the commonalities between the two parties, for the first time in several years, are taking center stage.

It's so nice to see that the political media is getting the displays of bipartisanship it has been asking for. We'll see if this good faith dining extends to good faith policy negotiation.

Not. Holding. Breath.

LeslieJonesMcCloud
LeslieJonesMcCloud

What a disgusting display. Who are these one, two percent-ers? How can they remain so disconnected from what is actually happening to people who are not wealthy? Do they even know what poverty is? Poverty in this country is $40,000 for a family of four. The super-poor make less. Do these people have any idea how much it costs to feed a teen boy? These neo-conservative pols are only spokesmen for the corporate super rich. What the president seeks is fairness. I wonder what was in those plates of food they consumed. Not a skinny man among them - they seem well-fed. Fat hogs. A group of unwise men consider a cut to the nose to spite the face just because it feels like the right thing to do.

BJPropst
BJPropst

McDonald's for dinner? 
















gabrielapetrie
gabrielapetrie

Yeah. And the President's administration has "begun talking" like he doesn't care about the sovereignty of U.S. citizens, at home or abroad. Just a couple of days ago his Attorney General said, in the context of drone strikes against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, that he can imagine a scenario where U.S. military force is justified on U.S. soil. So we can figure in the part about it being against U.S. citizens, as well, because that's what the conversation was all about. And furthermore, he cited Pearl Harbor and 9/11 as times when it would have been useful to do so.

Writer14
Writer14

"a outrage"

Does no one proofread these articles?

gysgt213
gysgt213

Isn't this what the media wanted.? Obama and republicans dating.

meddevguy
meddevguy

"balanced approach" -- I need tax increases so I can pander to my base and divide the Republicans.

"meeting and eating with his foes, and things have been looking up ever since" -- Do I look like I am reaching out or what? I'm watching those polls.

"But the spirit of the city is shifting, and the commonalities between the two parties," -- See, it's been their leadership all along. I have always been ready to do my "balanced approach" of taxes in January, then demand more "taxes on the rich" and offer some decrease in my increased spending -- sometime in the future ... if I feel like it.

At least we do have the legacy figured out -- The best Political Campaigner to ever sit in the White House.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

How else are those 'You mean chained CPI was on the table all along????" moments going to get generated?


JoeSloan
JoeSloan

Let's hope "thumbs up" doesn't mean the veal was delicious.  Words are cheap...let's see what transpires before patting anyone on the back.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

BHO may have stumbled onto a smart strategy. When he bypasses the media and communicates directly with the population he has more success. And now when he bypasses the republican leadership (leadership in name only in the case of Boehner) in Congress he makes progress. 

Media elites and republican leadership seem to have something in common. 

prowag
prowag

@Student @ipolisci I'm skeptical at prez level. Boehner's "hopeful" quote came right after he mocked Obama for finally meeting with them.

TomR1045
TomR1045

@lurch I'm curious. Were you sick and tired of Obama's actions and flat out lies coming from him as to  what the impact of the sequester would be? Is that really what you expect of the President?

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@grape_crush But blissful bipartisanship is all that matters. 

If it results in contraction causing austerity, well that's boring policy stuff.

fhmadvocat
fhmadvocat

I don't think the President is the only one looking at the polls.  Right now, Congressional Republicans rank just ahead of North Korea and behind root canal surgery in terms of popularity.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@meddevguyI need tax increases 

Because tax rates are at historic lows and they are contributing significantly to a deficit that Republicans can't help screaming about even though they're fighting like mad to make sure that it gets worse.

gabrielapetrie
gabrielapetrie

@meddevguy There's little difference between the two parties except rhetoric they just beat each other over the head with every year, for the entertainment of the crowd. The things they both work toward are always their meeting points. Now Obama's Attorney General is talking just like Bush Jr.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@PaulDirks That the apparent lack of communication between republican leadership and the rank and file didn't warrant a mention in MS's piece is interesting, isn't it?

I may be onto something with my comparison. 

grape_crush
grape_crush

@Paul,nnto > Media elites and republican leadership seem to have something in common.

That, at best, both show themselves to be generally useless?

At worst, they're a drag on the forward progress of the country.

meddevguy
meddevguy

Our President NEVER bypasses the media. They are an important part of his full-time election campaign team.

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

@Paul,nnto @grape_crush Michael seems to be trying for the David Broder crown now. I thought he was going for the anything Obama does is wrong chair, but he may view the Broder one as better - after all he was always on the teevee blessing centrism and bipartisanship.