Washington (CNN) – When President Barack Obama attended the first of four meetings on Capitol Hill this week, it was clear that many of the Senate Democrats he lunched with wanted to bend his ear.
"There were quite a bit of questions, he stayed for a long time," Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, said about the meeting that was scheduled for 60 minutes but went for about 90. "Sen. (Majority Leader Harry) Reid gave him ample opportunity to leave and he decided to stay and answer more questions."
In fact, the president took about a dozen questions from senators and discussed a wide range of issues, including the budget, entitlement reform, foreign policy, immigration, guns and drones.
While the president's efforts this week to reach out to lawmakers is largely aimed at Republicans, several Democratic senators have acknowledged privately that they are frustrated the president doesn't have stronger relationships with them.
"I'm very impressed with the tone that I'm hearing today," said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, moments after the meeting ended. "And maybe I think he realized that we've got to work together."
It may sound odd to hear a Democrat talking about working together with a Democratic president, but that's a sentiment among many senators who feel shut out or ignored by the White House. After the meeting, some of those same senators said, based on the president's presentation, it was clear he understood he needed to improve relations with them.
Obama will meet Wednesday with House Republicans; on Thursday he'll meet separately with House Democrats and Senate Republicans.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she hopes these meetings will lead to direct talks with the president on the thorny budget issues confronting the country.
"I think this initial overture is very welcome. but it needs to be followed up with concrete working sessions that extend many hours, where we're all locked in a room, occasionally thrown something to eat, until we reach agreement on some of the very big issues facing us," she said.
One difficult issue is whether Democrats are willing to compromise on entitlement reform. "The president was pretty clear that we have to have these programs sustainable and it's reasonable to look at them," Cardin said.
The president told the Democrats that his recent outreach to Senate Republicans – including a private dinner at a fancy hotel last week – was positive. But he also said Republicans need to be more willing to compromise.
"He says working together with Republicans in terms of getting a grand bargain or a major dent in this issue is critically important," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, about a deal to reduce the deficit. "But compromise is essential and he hasn't seen enough from them yet but he is also going to keep on trying."
While serious subjects dominated the meeting, the president did win laughter after he playfully grabbed Reid's notes and made fun of the doodles drawn on them. The president joked that he wanted to send them to a psychiatrist for analysis.