Analysis: What's behind Obama's charm offensive?
March 8th, 2013
06:18 PM ET
1 year ago

Analysis: What's behind Obama's charm offensive?

Washington (CNN) - In case you missed it, Barack Obama–the man who once seemed perfectly content to live under the political equivalent of house arrest–has suddenly decided to become a party animal. He's having phone chats with Republicans, taking them out to dinner at a swanky Washington hotel and has plans to rush up to Capitol Hill next week for four meetings -with the Democrats, and his new acquaintances, the Republicans.

Since we know this is not about empty nest syndrome (he still likes to have dinner with his daughters at home), there must be something else up.

Truth is, as one person who has spoken with the president says, "he doesn't have a lot of options left." He managed to cut a deal on the fiscal cliff, but his strategy on the forced budget cuts-asking the GOP to accept new revenue-did not work. And no one thinks it's Armageddon, no matter how much the White House tried to make the case. The alternative to doing nothing, this source says "is total polarization." And since the president has a big agenda he would like to get to beyond the fiscal problems, he needs to deal with budget issues in a way that does not poison the well.

So, his Democratic allies have advised him, how about trying to engage the other side? "The more you do it, the more you will like it," one ally said he told the president.

The list of luminaries in favor of glasnost is a well-known contingent: former White House chiefs of staff Rahm Emanuel, John Podesta and Bill Daley and former Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle, according to one source. He's been advised to do this before, a former White official says, only this time he's doing it. And that may have something to do with the fact that he's got a new White House team that is more oriented towards the Congress – Denis McDonough as Chief of Staff and Rob Nabors as his deputy (both are former Capitol Hill staffers).

And the pain apparently isn't as bad as he thought. "He told his staff that he enjoyed the other night [dinner with the Republicans] very much," says one knowledgeable source. "He's been told that if you try it, you might like it more than you think you will." Kind of like dreading a party, and then enjoying it once you get there.

Given the fact that the Obamas dined with the Clintons last week, one source who knows Bill Clinton's feelings on outreach says "It's not a bad assumption" that the president heard similar talking points at dinner. Clinton, of course, was the king of congressional schmooze.

There is, of course, a crucial backdrop to all of this: one source says the president believes that if he doesn't get a big deficit reduction deal by the end of the summer, the moment will have passed. He's trying to build some momentum for that, another source adds. "He's saying 'I will talk to everybody and anybody.'" What that also means is that if this charm offensive fails, he can't be blamed. In other words, he has nothing to lose.


Filed under: President Obama • Republicans
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. GlueckAuf

    If today's positive, though slight, uptick in job creation goes to his head, say "do svidaniya" to the new Obama glasnost. It'll be back to the bad old cold war days between Republicans and Democrats. What brought this on was the clear defeat the president suffered from the public's ho-hum reaction to the White House hysteria campaign over sequestration. Success feeds this president's arrogance, and redoubles his hostility toward the opposition. And his leadership of the Nation at large evaporates. Too bad. It felt nice to experience non-dysfunctional governance...if only for a weekend.

    March 8, 2013 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  2. John

    "What that also means is that if this charm offensive fails, he can't be blamed. In other words, he has nothing to lose."

    I think this is the larger point. If the GOP people rebuff him now, they will play into his hands in that they can no longer say he didn't try.

    March 8, 2013 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  3. Woman In California

    And the pain apparently isn't as bad as he thought. "He told his staff that he enjoyed the other night [dinner with the Republicans] very much," says one knowledgeable source. "He's been told that if you try it, you might like it more than you think you will." Kind of like dreading a party, and then enjoying it once you get there.

    Mr. Presient, as long as you don't sell out my social security and Medicare, pay for all the dinners you want with these pigs. When the day comes that you agree to chip at what I've worked for, then, I'll take it very personal and you'll lose this supporter.

    March 8, 2013 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  4. Diane

    It's to bad the republicans (not all) do not realize this is the "United" States of Americia. When Bush/Cheney said we have to go to war (2 wars) and find those weapons of mass destruction the dems (not all) "united" with the bush. Even though bush charged it on a credit card we American united behind our president.

    The republicans messages are unamerican.

    March 8, 2013 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  5. Kenman

    "..if this charm offensive fails, he can't be blamed". WHAT?

    THAT is the whole point, that's the whole point behind this bogus effort to get anything accomplished in a bipartisan way! He has no intention of working with Republicans, he just knows that the media will accept the hype and run with it, so that they can both paint the Republicans as the problem! It's been his scheme of diversion all along, where he directs the attention and blame elsewhere and the media follows like a pet chasing a laser!

    March 8, 2013 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  6. Really

    The President is engaging people, networking. Great concept to further a cause for everyone:)

    March 8, 2013 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  7. Ray E. (Georgia)

    If the republicians hold the House next election and maybe even take the Senate Obama's adjenda is pretty much over. He is thru. Not even Bill Clinton can pass a Camal thru the eye of a needle.

    March 8, 2013 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  8. Ed1

    Obama is a great snake oil salesman that's all it is nothing else.

    March 8, 2013 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  9. Brian

    No idea why citizens near and far are compelled to believe this Harvard Law, Chicago politician – Bush was a two bit liar, and make no mistake, this guy is too....

    Reality check: if God were staring into your eyes, face to face, would you tell God that you believe the things Obama is preaching to us? Really? It's as though we, "...can't handle the truth!!"

    March 8, 2013 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  10. Lynne s

    I would rather eat my arm than have dinner with a table full of republican fools.

    March 8, 2013 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  11. fvw50

    Obama is taking good advice, but he doesn't seem to 'get' it. If he continues to play the 'blame' game he'll poison his own well. He needs to look himself in the mirror and ask how receptive he would be to himself if he had taken his own 'abuse' about sequestration over the last three months (and rubbing it in the opposition's face after the election.) He and the Republicans each have a trust issue with each other, and that does not get resolved overnight. It's going to take longer than this summer and it's going to take a series of compromises by both sides to build trust. One grand deal is not going to happen without some intermediate steps along the way.

    March 8, 2013 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  12. Carl

    Gee, to me this looks like damage control since he was outed by the Washington Post. But don't worry, Democrats, it will vanish as soon as the next crises has passed. What a political hack we have as president.

    March 8, 2013 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  13. Mike500

    This is so transparent. He doesn't want a deal, he wants to say he tried but the other side wouldn't budge. He could have reached out 4 years ago.

    March 8, 2013 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  14. Dave

    Republican obstruction will cost them the house in 2014. I think the president is playing into that; making it more than clear he's trying to work with Republicans. The implicit message is something like, "replace this Congress with people who'll work with me. I've more than done my part." Republicans will fall for it because their ideology won't allow them leeway to alter the inevitable path they are on.

    March 9, 2013 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  15. Rob

    Why would Republicans dance with the devil?

    March 9, 2013 02:16 am at 2:16 am |
  16. Jim

    Charm offensive? The Emperor, our High Community Organizer in Chief, has decided to stoop to dealing with the Lords and Ladies of Congress? Wow! I'm really impressed.

    March 9, 2013 02:38 am at 2:38 am |
  17. Rob

    House arrest. I guess if being constantly on vacation and golf outings on our dime is house arrest. He has been paring since he took office. Maybe you headline should read, "Obama finally does a days work".

    March 9, 2013 04:11 am at 4:11 am |
  18. JOHN

    The man is about his humanistic agenda... trust him like you would a shark in deep water. Read Humanist Manifesto II. This is his Bible... not mine.

    March 9, 2013 05:09 am at 5:09 am |
  19. logicnothuff

    Liar liar pants on fire. Lie lie about Republicans, constantly, so we know this is all about the Marxist Media taking about "outreach", and then Hussein will trash the "deal" with some treachery, and the Marxist Media will call the Republicans "obstructionist". This will take place in about 21 days. Obama is evil. Democrat Party is evil.

    March 9, 2013 06:52 am at 6:52 am |
  20. logicnothuff

    This president is God's judgement on the United States for trying to force Israel to give away Jewish lands to the PLO terrorists. USA (under Bush, Clinton, Bush, BamBam) has for past 20 years gritted their teeth and extorted Israel to give land to people whose mission is to destroy them and push the Hebrews into the sea, so God has unleashed President Destroyer to make a shambles of us. Impeach Obama. Stand by Israel. Survive.

    March 9, 2013 06:55 am at 6:55 am |
  21. Marry

    What’s behind the President's charm offensive? Trying to get something useful done, of cause! Or does anybody think he does it for the fun of it? It shows that the GOP has a funny understanding of "working". Nothing about searching for a good way but all out to be wined and dined... They are used to that treatment from their "sponsors"! I guess the President has come to the conclusion that without "partying" with them and stroking their egos – nothing will move forward on their side!

    March 9, 2013 06:57 am at 6:57 am |
  22. jonnyg

    I wouldn't call a 1 hour meeting with the GOP while asking for another 600 billion in new taxes...charm

    March 9, 2013 07:10 am at 7:10 am |
  23. uncdig

    it's only taken him 5 years into his presidency to finally get the message of what a true leader does. Pity his arrogance wasted 4 years of our time. Then again, he seems to like people when he needs something

    March 9, 2013 07:19 am at 7:19 am |
  24. P G Williams

    Ha! Ha! "When men have done their best, angels can do no more" (smile)

    March 9, 2013 08:07 am at 8:07 am |
  25. texas77562

    He is only doing this to get his rating up again. This is only a publicity stunt. He has no real intention on working with no one. His way or the highway is still his motto.

    March 9, 2013 08:18 am at 8:18 am |
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