Obama dinner with Republicans signals shift in approach
March 7th, 2013
08:49 AM ET
1 year ago

Obama dinner with Republicans signals shift in approach

(CNN) – The dinner between President Barack Obama and a group of Senate Republicans on Wednesday - described by different attendees as "honest," "interactive," and "cordial" - launched the latest attempt by the chief executive to cultivate alliances with rivals who have stood opposed to his policy proposals.

On Thursday, Obama invited Rep. Paul Ryan and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Republican and Democrat on the House Budget Committee, to lunch at the White House. And next week he'll attend meetings on Capitol Hill with the entire House and Senate Republican coalitions, along with members of his own party.

Obama is attempting to reach rank-and-file lawmakers, who he's largely avoided in budget negotiations, choosing instead to work with the party's leadership. Social events with lawmakers were also largely absent from his calendar during his first term and the president was criticized for that from some members of Congress, including Democrats.

Obama took a blame-Congress approach in the showdown over the forced spending cuts that went into effect on Friday. A White House official told CNN on Wednesday that the president's outreach was a "change in approach" following the deadline-driven atmosphere of the previous week.

The dinner Wednesday, which came at Obama's request and included some of his most vocal critics, lasted a little over two hours. Emerging afterwards, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, gave a thumbs-up and said the meal went "just fine."

Another GOP senator, who asked not to be named because it was a private event, described it as a "very positive meeting" that focused on the debt and deficit. The senator also used the words "interactive," "respectful," and "sober" to describe the gathering, adding that it was even jovial at times.

Another senator who asked not to be named said Republicans got into some detail on each subject, especially tax reform and Medicare. The senator said they were all candid about ideas, and what could be considered "challenges" within each party.

According to this senator, one Republican told the president that if he really wants to do tax reform in a way that attracts fiscal conservatives, he should entertain the idea of throwing out the tax code and revamping it and "do something dramatic."

Obama, the senator said, reacted "openly" to that and other ideas.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, called the dinner "a candid and constructive conversation on both sides."

"I think there are areas where we could reach common ground," Toomey said. "I think that is possible, but it's not going to happen over one dinner. If this were easy we would have done it years ago when it comes to solving our fiscal problems, reforming our entitlement programs, fixing our tax code."

The 12 senators invited to the dinner included McCain and Toomey, along with Lindsey Graham and South Carolina, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Dan Coats of Indiana, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, and John Hoeven of North Dakota.

One senator said wine was poured but there was "not copious amounts of drinking." The president drank iced tea, and other senators did as well.

The venue of choice was the Jefferson Hotel, just blocks from the White House, where Obama held several fundraisers during last year's presidential campaign. The restaurant at the hotel is called Plume, an eatery with a prix fixe of $85 per person, plus gratuity and tax (about $106 per head). And that doesn't include beverages.

The White House said Obama paid the tab out of his own pocket.

- CNN's Jim Acosta, Adam Aigner-Treworgy, Dana Bash, Kevin Liptak and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.


Filed under: Congress • President Obama
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Tank Manhammer

    I wonder how much this dinner cost. I'm paying for it, and so are all of you.

    March 7, 2013 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  2. WiredweirdinSF

    No shift, I am sure Obozo will ignore whatever they said, he always does. That is why this country the country is in such bad shape and there is so much hatred and anger. When you have a president that is constantly demeaning and degrading his political opponents and holding hard working American taxpayers in such contempt, it is difficult to think they can be bought off by an expensive dinner. Obama is used to buying off people with cellphones, ambassadorships and appearances on their news programs.

    March 7, 2013 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  3. plain&simple

    Now it's not just the governor of New Jersey to single out. Don't start saying to many good things,you might ruin your reputations! No tea party trolls will ever respect you again!

    March 7, 2013 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  4. Rudy NYC

    Did anyone else catch Spkr Boehner in an interview yesterday saying that he's always been against budget negotiations taking place "between two guys behind closed doors." He was rationalizing away his reasons for not sitting down with Pres. Obama.

    March 7, 2013 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  5. Ancient Texan

    Will he become the President of ALL Americans, instead of the 50.89% that voted for him? Nope, just posturing for political reasons and still thinking about 2014 mid-term elections.

    March 7, 2013 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  6. freedom

    Seems that he needs guidance on how to govern. How he got elected twice will always be a sad statement on where our country was. No matter what they discussed, Obamacare and this president's spending frenzy and lack of our national defense are our biggest issues. The history books will show that Obamacare was all his – no Republican voted for that – and it will be responsible for strangling our businesses financially, people losing their jobs, people not having health care (it never was about that – only about money), and people having the lowest quality of health care this country has ever seen. So, these meetings that he's having all of a sudden mean nothing.

    March 7, 2013 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  7. v_mag

    I don't care about these dinners. Obama is still meeting with obstructionists, and nothing will come of it. It will give the President a little political cover, but nothing will happen legislatively until we get rid of a bunch of Repugnants in 2014.

    What I want to comment on is the Archaic Arkansas Act. I'm talking about the hugely invasive anti-woman bill just passed in AR over the veto of the governor. This is wrong on many counts, but it is unconstitutional because of the massive imposition of government into private health matters and because it inserts fundamentalist Christer superstitions into law, violating separation of church and state.

    March 7, 2013 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  8. Steve

    His views are evolving

    March 7, 2013 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  9. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    The President has bent over backwards to work with these goons and they still spit in his face!

    March 7, 2013 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  10. Pete

    Pres.Obama is just the prison warden giving his prisoner set to hang for unpatriotic,treasonistic acts their last meal that's all!!Republicans in both houses almost unanimously voting for their monster they created in the sequester and now after Boehner saying publicly he got his 98% worth and told his collegues no compremising they have the hangmans noose around their necks thanks to them sending the bill to Pres.Obama to happily sign..Just another ignorent move the arrogent party of NO have done but now its their political careers they've hung out to dry,not the presidents they thought as McConnell they had..Republicans,so pathedicly stupid,so sad a party to end this way at their own hands !!But doesn't history repeat itself sometimes because here it has!!

    March 7, 2013 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  11. Borderless

    Hey! Maybe he will actually try leading for a change. It worked for all the other presidents.

    March 7, 2013 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  12. ghostriter

    My only problem with reforming the tax code is whether or not Grover will approve. It was funny to watch him scream about overall tax rates when Obama mention it, but when Romney did, it was not a tax increase at all.

    So I guess if Obama lets republicans present the idea AND he pretends to be against it, Grover will play nice.

    March 7, 2013 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  13. wade

    Obama has no other approach! He is a dictator not a leader. He demands, blame and cover up his scandals and the Liberal; Press just let him do it and even defend his doing it. He will tell the GOP " you can sit in the back of the bus, or I will blame you for everything, or I will punish you if you do not do as I say" I would not expect anything else unless of course he LIES like he did for the Debt Hike increase.

    March 7, 2013 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  14. Ron Bockman

    he is very slick

    March 7, 2013 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  15. Fair is Fair

    Hey Obama... maybe you realize now that people are open to working with you if you ditch the "my-way-or-the-highway" attitude you've been saddled with by the far-left wing of your party. Maybe there's a glimmer of hope.

    March 7, 2013 10:10 am at 10:10 am |