Republicans, while skeptical, welcome Obama outreach
March 10th, 2013
02:44 PM ET
1 year ago

Republicans, while skeptical, welcome Obama outreach

Washington (CNN) - Whatever you choose to call it - a charm offensive, an olive branch or just dinner - President Barack Obama's outreach to congressional Republicans is certainly a change of pace.

And on Sunday, those Republicans seemed guardedly optimistic the new approach from the White House could work, though they were quick to acknowledge that no amount of broiled sea bass or upcoming visits to Capitol Hill could produce the kind of compromise that's eluded the two sides since Republicans took control of the House in 2010.

"This is the first time I've ever had a conversation with the president lasting more than, say, two minutes or televised exchanges," said Rep. Paul Ryan, who sat down to that broiled sea bass with Obama at the White House on Thursday.

"Will he sincerely change and try and find common ground, try and work with Republicans to get something done? That's what we hope happens," Ryan continued on "Fox News Sunday," sounding skeptical that Obama's motives in extending the lunch invitation weren't purely political.

That was the same tone adopted by House GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy, who suggested on CNN's "State of the Union" that Obama's newfound desire to meet rank-and-file Republican lawmakers may be more about politics than pact-making.

"I believe anytime both parties are talking it's a good thing. This should have happened four years ago," McCarthy told CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley. "I'm glad it's happening now. But is this about politics, or is this genuine? Only time will tell."

Obama’s new strategy began over dinner Wednesday with a dozen GOP senators, who could order sea bass or filet mignon. It’s different from his negotiating tactics of the past when he dealt almost exclusively with House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate. He's long been urged to nurture better relationships with rank-and-file lawmakers in both parties, but has resisted by saying no amount of glad-handing could forge compromise with rivals he labeled as intransigent.

That was the argument Rep. Nancy Pelosi used Sunday when explaining why Obama hadn't tried reaching out to Republicans until now.

"It is not why we haven't had progress before," the House Democratic leader said on CNN. "We haven't had progress before because the Republicans were committed to blocking the initiatives of President Barack Obama."

But with another looming budget deadline - the expiration on March 27 of the measure funding the federal government - Obama has quickly ramped up his efforts to meet GOP lawmakers. He'll be on Capitol Hill three days this week meeting with the full Republican and Democratic caucuses in both the House and Senate.

Aside from the major budget arguments that led to automatic spending cuts taking effect March 1, Obama will need Congress to approve major pieces of legislation he's identified as priorities of his second term, including comprehensive immigration reform and laws aimed at stopping gun violence.

Some Republicans, including Ryan and McCarthy, voiced concern that Obama's new approach was simply a way to curry favor with voters, who could punish House Republicans during the 2014 midterm elections for refusing to compromise. Republicans have long been critical of Obama's trips around the country promoting his policy agenda (another of which will happen this week when he heads to Illinois to talk energy).

"Will he resume the campaign mode? Will he resume attacking Republicans and impugning our motives? Will he resume what is long believed to be a plan to win the 2014 elections?" Ryan wondered Sunday.

McCarthy questioned whether the recent outreach was "about winning the House or is this about governing for all of America?"

One Republican was less skeptical. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who was one of the 12 Republicans who dined with Obama on Wednesday, called Obama "tremendously sincere" in his courting of GOP elected officials.

"I don't think this is just a political change in tactic," Coburn said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

He continued, "I think he would actually like to solve the problems of the country, and it would be to his benefit and certainly every American's benefit if he did that. It's time to start leading, and the way you do that is quit poking your fingers in people's eyes and start building relationships, and I think he's got a great chance to accomplish a big deal."

In Obama's words, the new ice-breaking campaign is meant to "untangle some of the gridlock," as he described in his weekly address Saturday.

He explained further at Saturday night's white-tie dinner for the Gridiron Club, where the president joined lawmakers and media bigwigs to dine on - what else - sea bass.

"I'm … doing what I can to smooth things over with Republicans in Congress," Obama said. "In fact, these days John McCain and I are spending so much time together that he told me we were becoming friends."


Filed under: House Republicans • President Obama
soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. BeverlyNC

    Of course Republicans welcome the ideas and solutions President Obama is explaining to them and to Republicans other than their entrenched obstructionist so-called "leaders" like Boehner and McConnell. The Republican Party is in total disarray. No leadership. No one willing to to end the tea party extremism destroying their Party from the inside out. Moderate Republicans (both their base and their members of Congress) are leaving the Party because trying to get anything done is a waste of time.
    Let President Obama be the leader, create the solution Republicans can't, let it look like Republicans "won" want they wanted and get a common sense budget passed. President Obama is a confident leader who does not need constant credit for all he does. He wants what is best for the country and the People – something the Republicans need to learn again.

    March 10, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  2. MaryM

    Either come together Americans. Or keep playing the "us v. them" card and get left behind. Decide which side you are on – Someone who is willing to work with people, who might think differently, towards the greater good for America, or someone who wants to keep the divide alive.

    March 10, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  3. Getoverit

    “I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts."

    -Barack H. Obama Nov. 21, 2011

    March 10, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  4. Donna

    "The problem is, is that the way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children, driving up our national debt from $5 trillion for the first 42 presidents – #43 added $4 trillion by his lonesome, so that we now have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back — $30,000 for every man, woman and child. That’s irresponsible. It’s unpatriotic."

    -Barack H. Obama

    March 10, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  5. SafeJourney

    Why is it so hard for Congress to compromise. President Obama cant do this all by himself

    March 10, 2013 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  6. Doughboy

    The only compromise the Republicans deem viable is if the Democrats abandon their agenda and buy into the Republican agenda wholesale.

    March 10, 2013 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  7. Ancient Texan

    When this President says he want to "work with the Republicans", get ready for grandious insults and "royal decrees". He is setting the opposition up for the fall and embarassment.

    March 10, 2013 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  8. Patrick in Wisconsin

    Tex, I'm pretty sure you're doing that more than Obama ever will.

    March 10, 2013 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  9. Larry L

    @Ancient Texan

    When this President says he want to "work with the Republicans", get ready for grandious insults and "royal decrees". He is setting the opposition up for the fall and embarassment.
    ========================================================
    Maybe he'll ask to see the Republicans birth certificates. Maybe he'll get Democrats to filibuster everything in the Senate. Maybe he'll ask the Democrats in the House to only offer bills loaded with toxic riders – like "personhood" laws. Maybe he'll take an oath to somebody outside of the government – like Grover Norquist. Think about it...

    March 10, 2013 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  10. jkane sfl the gop national disgrace party will be swept out like the trash they are in2014 ?

    The gop is dead and will get trashed in 2014 and lose the house ,. They can't govern and are total failures for the last eight years at the least !!!!

    March 10, 2013 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  11. Getoverit

    @Doughboy
    The only compromise the Republicans deem viable is if the Democrats abandon their agenda and buy into the Republican agenda wholesale.
    ---------
    The only compromise the Democrats deem viable is if the Republicans abandon their agenda and buy into the Democrat agenda wholesale. You were partially right, but you had it backwards.

    March 10, 2013 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  12. Getoverit

    @Larry L
    Maybe he’ll get Democrats to filibuster everything in the Senate.
    ---------
    He doesn't have to. Harry "Obstructionist" Reid never brings anything to the floor for a vote.

    March 10, 2013 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  13. cbr

    The Republican leadership vowed not to pass any legislation proposed by President Obama from 2009 until election day in 2012. They thought their actions would keep the president from being re-elected. I watched the interview with Sen. McConnell and Rep. Boehner right after the inauguration in January of 2009 and was shocked by their ideas. . Now these two men are blaming the President for everything that went wrong because President Obama will not go along with their ideas. They would like us all to forget their pledge of 2009 and to think that they have been cooperative.

    The problem is Washington is that our elected officials refuse to cooperate or compromise. There is a win-win type of bargaining that many people use to get two sides together. It could be used in Washington except the Republicans refuse to compromise.

    Speak Boehner emails an alert which is made up of Republican ideas for balancing the budget, getting people back to work, etc. The alert never mentions cooperation or compromise. In his mind everything is the fault of this President. Unfortunately, President Obama was not president when Congress continually spent money on the war which drained our funds. President Bush also signed into law new tax decreases for everyone. He never once thought about the deficit which he created. Now Sen. McConnell, Speaker Boehner, Rep. Cantor and others would like us to believe that the entire deficit occurred under President Obama even when economists and others have proven that this President is not to blame for it. In fact, President Obama cut spending otherwise we would be in worse shape. Perhaps it is time for these men to tell the truth, to stop being so nasty, and to welcome the President's actions.

    March 10, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  14. freedom

    It's a totally false outreach. Paul Ryan said this morning it's the only conversation the president has ever had with him – after 4 years in office?? He had all that time for outreach. His big mouth campaiging has backfired on him – finally – and he HAS to reach out. It doesn't mean his agenda will change – he's just doing it for show.

    March 10, 2013 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  15. Name Catmandew

    Obama is just playing politics as usual everything he has done while in office has been geared toward the elections, so I doubt this is any different! He will play it like see I tried to work with them and they weren't reasonable because they have minds of their own and won't mindlessly do what I tell them to! So will say KING OBAMA, I am not a dictator, I am King!

    March 10, 2013 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  16. Chuck

    Guys always take out dates before they take them back home and screw them

    March 10, 2013 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  17. Free Man in the Republic of Texas

    "Republicans"
    Love to lick the boots of OBAMA !!!

    That's exactly why we are going to fire every single one of them.

    March 10, 2013 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  18. marty

    The Republican arguments and derision are silly. When their leader, Mitch McConnell, openly and publicly on national television said that their ultimate priority was to make Mr Obama a one term president, that said it all, period. McConnell et al simply failed. If President Obama's attempts to be more social are misconstrued by Republicans as having some kind of ulterior motive, then I guess it can be said that, 'it takes one to know one".

    March 10, 2013 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  19. Ancient Texan

    Larry L. – Harry Reid's decision to table every bill sent to the Senate is not Republican filibustering. It's one stubborn old coot following Obama's directions to ignore any serious attempt to conduct business; like passing a budget....4 years and waiting..

    March 10, 2013 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  20. AK_steve

    The GOP party is like the crying kid that didn't like loosing the game so he took his ball and went home. Obama is the kid who goes the crying kids house and gets the ball back to everyone else can play.

    But in this case Obama isn't getting the ball back for everybody, he is getting the country back for everybody.

    March 10, 2013 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  21. Name lynn

    Obama told the republicans it is what it aint, because i am not hurting the poor people, go back an do the paper work over again.

    March 10, 2013 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  22. alex

    Compromise that's eluded congress since Republicans took the house in 2010 – well that's just it isn't it? As long as rethuglicans are running congress this will remain the most dysfunctional government we've ever seen and America will continue to suffer because all the gop knows how to do is obstruct and call Obama a socialist. Maybe that works for their base but it is no way to run a country. The gop is an embarrassment. Can't wait for them to lose the house in 2014. Then we will see the full potential of our country to escape the debt the gop buried us under.

    March 10, 2013 09:50 pm at 9:50 pm |
  23. alex

    And how do you find common ground with a group that will flip on their own ideas just to look like they are opposing you? The individual healthcare mandate comes to mind. That was a republican idea originally, then Obama put it in his healthcare law to try to find some common ground with republicans. Now they call it unconstitutional. The gop doesn't care about common ground. They only care about calling our president names.

    March 10, 2013 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  24. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    It would have been nice to see some more of this in the last term, but I don't think that it would have been met with any acceptance from the Republicans in Congress.

    March 10, 2013 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  25. B

    "Republicans, while skeptical, welcome Obama outreach." We all know the end to this story. The president extends an olive branch to the republicans once again, and they slap out of hand again.

    March 10, 2013 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
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