(CNN) – President Barack Obama and Congressional Republicans have set a series of meetings in the coming week, a move toward direct talks with rank-and-file lawmakers that he's largely avoided in the budget feuds of the last several months.
The president invited a group of Republican senators to dinner Wednesday evening at a hotel within blocks of the White House, and has requested to attend meetings with both House and Senate Republicans next week.
The list of invitees to Wednesday's dinner, provided to CNN by a GOP source, includes some of the president's harshest critics: Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John McCain of Arizona, Dan Coats of Indiana, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Pat Toomey Pennsylvania, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and John Hoeven of North Dakota.
While the president has met relatively frequently with members of the Republican leadership in the House and Senate during various budget impasses over the last months, he hasn't regularly met with rank-and-file Republicans. Aside from hammering out a compromise on reducing the federal deficit, lawmakers are weighing major immigration reform measures and gun control policies, which Obama characterized as priorities of his second term during his inauguration address.
"We need to have this dialogue," McCain said Wednesday when asked about the dinner. "I'm glad the president is doing it, I think it's very helpful we have continued discussions."
Graham, an ally of McCain's who's been a harsh critic of Obama, added "It is incumbent upon us to reach back. When he reaches out we've got to reach back."
While it was the president's idea to have dinner with Senate Republicans Wednesday night, he's not the one who put the list together, a White House official said.
This is part of a "continuing effort to reach out to Republican lawmakers" and the president in recent meetings and phone calls has been targeting "people who have expressed interest in compromise," the official added. Although the official noted that's not to say that everyone attending the dinner has signed on to all the president's ideas.
The dinner table conversation will primarily focus on fiscal matters, though the official said that other recent interactions with Republican lawmakers have included discussions on guns, immigration and energy.
The White House hopes this new outreach will lead to a grand bargain or a petite bargain, but the official said that they are "not naïve about the possibilities here."
"These are just conversations," the official continued. "Getting from there to a deal is hard."
Asked if this strategy is a shift from last week–when the White House had little communication with congressional lawmakers–the official said that it's a "change in approach" because the situation has changed. In other words, "we don't have a looming deadline," the official added.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday the president would attend the GOP weekly lunch meeting next Tuesday, the first time since May 2010 that Obama has attended a Republican policy lunch on Capitol Hill.
"Senate Republicans welcome the President to the Capitol," McConnell said in a statement. "And I appreciate he took my recommendation to hear from all of my members."
The White House confirmed Wednesday that Obama will also travel to Capitol Hill to meet separately with the House Republican conference, as well as Democrats from both chambers next week. A GOP aide said Obama previously met with the GOP conference in 2010 during a retreat in Baltimore.
The meetings come after a series of phone calls from Obama to Congressional leaders, made as the automatic across-the-board spending cuts took effect last weekend.
White House economic adviser Gene Sperling told CNN's Candy Crowley the president was trying to find the "bipartisan compromise that we need to get out of this."
"He's reaching out to Democrats who understand we have to make serious progress on long-term entitlement reform, and Republicans who realize if we have that type of entitlement reform, they'd be willing to have tax reform that raises revenues to lower the deficit," Sperling said on CNN's "State of the Union."
Republican Sens. Bob Corker and Rob Portman both said they received calls. "“I did think the conversation we had Saturday was constructive," Corker said, adding he sensed "a window of opportunity" for negotiations with the president.
Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican, also said she spoke with Obama on Monday.
"I think the important thing is for the first time in a very long time, the president appears to be doing some outreach to both Republicans and Democrats and that's long overdue," she told reporters.
The latest moves reflect a shift for the president, who has been criticized for not reaching out enough to members of Congress socially in a bid to build more personal relationships.
At a White House press conference in January, Obama pushed back on the charges, saying that "most people who know me know I'm a pretty friendly guy."
"I like a good party," he continued. "And the truth is when I was in the Senate, I had great relationships over there, and up until that point that I became president this was not an accusation that you heard very frequently."
He also said some Republicans seemed wary of socializing with a Democratic president.
The president has previously said he prefers to spend as much time as possible during the evenings with his daughters to help preserve family time, including in an interview in August with Jessica Yellin, CNN's chief White House correspondent.
"Sometimes Michelle and I not doing the circuit and going out to dinners with folks is perceived as us being cool. It actually really has more with us being parents," he said.
A preview of upcoming meetings between Obama and Republican lawmakers came last week when the president sat down with Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain to discuss pending immigration reform measures.
Graham, who has opposed Obama on topics ranging from national security to budgets, said it was "one of the best meetings I've ever had with the president."
"I was quite frankly encouraged," Graham told CNN. "I think we'll have presidential leadership in a very productive way on immigration reform.
McCain, Obama's rival in the 2008 presidential contest, said the immigration meeting was "excellent."
CNN's Jim Acosta, Dana Bash, Dan Lothian, Rachel Streitfeld, Kevin Bohn, Kevin Liptak, Ashley Killough and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.
Let's hope it ends up like the Scottish nobles being invited to the cabin in Braveheart.
Hey dems...get your facts straight before blaathering. There was a deal in place to avoid the sequester that included a moderate rise in taxes and reasonbale cuts that Boehner and Obama shook hands on, just before the House agreed to raide the debt celiing. The next day, Obama went completely back on his word with Boehner. This is all going down because Obummer LIED and the House has called his bluff. The reason Congress agreed on the terms of the sequester is because they never thought Obama went back on his word, so if you wonder why congressional leaders are reluctant to meet with him it's because of *&%! like that. Wake UP!!!
I think it is a good step – get these guys talking. Obama is a great lawyer but not so great at saying 'no' to the people who voted for him. He does seem like a good guy in general and even though i didn't vote for him I would have a beer with him and I suspect we would have a good time. I just think we have to cut spending – bring it back to the levels of the Clinton years. Problem is it will not be easy. When you build dependence it is hard to break it. I think most of the cuts need to take effect slow – which allows for atrition to lower the goverment workforce instead of layoffs...
What the heck....you mean to tell me he hasn't done this YET? The American people are tired of the procrastination and the finger pointing not only for blame, but for responsibility to make things happen. We all know what happens when you assume and our reps in Washington obviously operate on the premise that someone else needs to be taking care of it. You are not in high school. Get on with it....Obama posing like the "thinker"...John Carey parading around showing off his multi lingual prowess...Republicans moping around like someone dumped in their dinners. I just can't stand anymore of the drama!!! Grow up or get out. Washington is so wrapped up in their culture that they fail to see everyday they become a bigger joke. I AM proud to be an American, but growing extremely weary of living on the brink of perceived disaster daily.
What do you call someone who socializes with a socialist?
what a joke,
As a taxpayer of an inefficient government I refuse to pay for this hotel booking and dinner expenses. Can they meet at the White House over coffee ?. These elected official don't know how to run lean, but they expect the american taxpayer to do so. CRAZY. I think they must be reminded they where elected to serve not to be served
Just a reminder, the Emperior in not wearing any clothes.
What?, the White House doesn't have a kitchen staff? More wasteful $$$ of the taxpayers money. Just more politics as usual. Nothing will come of the meeting. This should have happened months ago, years ago. Obombers popularity is dropping and he's only trying to bolster that drop.
Sounds a lot like how he "worked" with repugs on health care... a round table circus for the media with no real intent on compromise. More politics from the spin-doctor in chief.
More Theater from our leaderless President.
Hopefully there will be food tasters there to protect the Republicans.....
Why am I not surprized that some people would criticize this gesture?
Some people live to be petty.
Twelve Angry Men....
Every article about furloughs and pink slips should have a pick of the nice dinners they treat themselves.
So much posturing, so little done, such big salaries for hot air.
Just to be safe the Reps should have poison tasters before each serving; you never can be too sure with this guy.
Why do they need dinner parties to conduct business?
Yea, meet with me 'cause I'm the guy "trying" to destroy the Republicans?
May as well be a meeting with 'Lil Kim.
Wow. The Emperor has granted an audience to his underlings.....jeez.
Hey dems...get your facts straight before blaathering. There was a deal in place to avoid the sequester that included a moderate rise in taxes and reasonbale cuts that Boehner and Obama shook hands on, just before the House agreed to raide the debt celiing. The next day, Obama went completely back on his word with Boehner.
I guess that explains why the Tea Party's raucus caucus made so much noise at the time over the revenue inreases in the bill that Boehener had made. The initial objections were over the revenue immediately after Boehner presented the deal to the House Republicans. They had objected to any deal that included revenue.. Then suddenly the talking point changed to "Obama changed the deal".
BTW, the sequester was the only bill that came out of the House that was not an ideological, symbolic vote. Remember, all spending bills *must* originate in the House. The Senate can only originate a revenue related bill if they vote twice on it. They would vote, without any amendments, a second time after the House passes it.
Obama needs to eat some humble pie. This narcissist needs to realize he aint all that.
What the heck....you mean to tell me he hasn't done this YET?
He's invited them on numerous occasions. Some had better things to do like wash their hair. The rest didn't even bother to respond to his invitation. IMO, once he gets them to the WH he should lock the doors and show the thugs what "sequester" really looks like!
Do to the sequester happy meals will be served , but you don't get to keep the toy .
Where is Lyndon Johnson now that we need him? He failed in Vietnam, but he could back-slap a deal together with *anyone*.