It was cool and overcast but not raining as the President arrived at the golf course at Joint Base Andrews this afternoon with Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Bob Corker, (R-Tenn.), and Mark Udall, (D-Colo.). “With the major fiscal issues our country is facing, not to mention foreign relations issues around the world, anytime you can get the president’s ear for a few hours, I think that’s a good thing,” Sen. Corker said in a statement Monday. But it’s Obama who’s looking to sway the Senators on the course today, not the other way around.
In March the President tried to charm both Corker and Chambliss over dinner; in April they voted against an amendment Obama supported that would have expanded gun background checks to include Internet sales and gun shows. Now the President is searching for allies amongst his old colleagues to help move an immigration reform bill, a grand bargain budget deal, and maybe even revisit the gun control package later this year. Without GOP support, he will be the “lame duck” political commentators have started naming him after only 126 days into his second term.
He has his work cut out for him. Besides the gun control debate, Corker, a member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, said that Obama’s new appointment to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), “Gives new meaning to the adage that the fox is guarding the hen house.” Corker has also recently hit the President on the alleged massive cash payments to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and has asked the President to consult Congress before extending U.S. involvement in Syria.
Chambliss, who is retiring in 2014, urged the President to deem Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber, an “enemy combatant,” which the White House declined to do, and voted against Obama’s nominee for CIA director John Brennan. Chambliss, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also has questioned the President on Syria.
Obama’s effort isn’t hopeless, though. Corker has said that he is “optimistic” about the possibility of passing meaningful comprehensive immigration reform. Chambliss, who was booed in Georgia following his initial support of the 2007 immigration reform bill, now believes that his constituents have changed their minds. “If we’re going to get the Hispanic vote we can’t be anti-Hispanics,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution back in February. Mark Udall is a critical supporter of immigration reform from a purple state.
Of all the issues Obama is looking for support on, it is the budget that will most likely take up the time in the golf cart. Chambliss has worked for years to design a bipartisan deficit-reduction package, and opened up room for his conservative colleagues to support raising income taxes in the fiscal cliff negotiations by repudiating Grover Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge.” Corker has said that Republicans would consider adding new tax revenues by closing loopholes if Democrats show a willingness to embrace “true” entitlement reform.
Obama to his credit found the perfect venue to negotiate with one of the most conservative Republicans, Chambliss, and one of the least, Corker. According to Golf Digest‘s 2011 rankings of Washington’s top 150 golfers, Corker has a 2.1 handicap and Chambliss, no slouch, has a 7.4 handicap. Udall is considered the best golfer in Congress with a 2 handicap. If Obama isn’t successful today, it won’t be because he chose the wrong setting.
“He’s looking for partners anywhere he can find them — including on the 8th hole,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
And he might have on the 11th—where Chambliss got a hole-in-one.
Update: “We had a delightful day of golf with folks who enjoy playing the game,” Sen. Chambliss said in a statement to TIME. “We talked some business, but it was mainly a day for everyone to get away from the office for a little while.”