Wednesday, June 27, 2012

President Welcomes Allies & Adversaries To Annual White House Congressional Picnic

"Blues, Boots and Barbecue" party offers bipartisan fun on the South Lawn...
After months of pummeling lawmakers for obstructing his plans, President Obama's To-Do List for Congress was far different on Wednesday evening than his usual five-point plan: He offered barbecue ribs and burgers, live music, and the promise of fun to lawmakers and their families visiting the White House for the annual Congressional Picnic.  (Above: The President speaks to the crowd as Mrs. Obama looks on)

With a summer-dress clad First Lady Michelle Obama by his side, the President struck a friendly chord as he welcomed the casually-dressed crowd from a flag-draped stage set up on the South Lawn for the Marine Corps Band. The picnic's theme: "Blues, Boots and Barbecue."

The President hailed the sunny, 86-degree weather as "spectacular" for a picnic, and urged the tie-wearing outliers in the crowd to "take it off."

"We’re thrilled that you have at least one day where you got a chance to be together in Washington and nobody is arguing," the President said. "So that also just reminds me that for all the political differences that are sometimes expressed in this town, we are first and foremost Americans--not Democrats or Republicans."

The President got a smattering of applause for that hope-filled idea. But on Thursday, pushed by Republicans, the House will vote on whether or not to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for the Fast & Furious operation. All the same, Holder strolled through the picnic alongside some of his biggest critics, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Homeland Security Chair Peter King. Thursday House vote update: The vote was 255-67, with 17 Democrats voting in support of a criminal contempt resolution, which authorizes Republicans leaders to seek criminal charges against Holder. (Above: Holder and King chat at the picnic)

The Supreme Court is also expected to issue a ruling on the constitutionality of the President's health care law on Thursday, which some of his picnic guests have vowed to repeal. Thursday update: SCOTUS saved the law.  But Rep. Cantor announced that the House will vote to repeal it on July 11, after Congress returns from the July 4th recess.

At the White House press briefing earlier in the day, Press Secretary Jay Carney chastised Members of the House for "political gamesmanship" and "fishing expeditions." But when asked why the President was even bothering to hold the picnic this year, he defended the event.

"It's a great American tradition," Carney said. "And the President looks forward to it, as do I. Look, I think there are six different kinds of barbecue."

Thus the President's Wednesday To-Do List: "Make sure to enjoy the barbecue, enjoy the music," he said, after noting that the Marine Corps Band "can play anything at any time."

"Go see the garden," Mrs. Obama suggested; her world famous Kitchen Garden is a short walk down the South Lawn from the mansion.

"Go see the garden if you want," the President echoed.

Guests, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), and Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss), mingled among white tents set up for the food service, and picnic tables covered with red and white checkered tablecloths, anchored by glass vases filled wit yellow and white flowers. On the menu: All different kinds of BBQ ribs, burgers, hot dogs, French fries, and ice cream treats. (Above: Guests enjoying the picnic)

As he has in years past, the President thanked the lawmakers' families for putting up with tough schedules that have them constantly traveling, missing birthdays, and arriving late at children's soccer games.

"Michelle reminds me every day how difficult it is to be married to a politician," President Obama said, to laughter.

"You guys are serving alongside those of us who hold elective office," he told the lawmakers' families.

"And I think all of us want to make sure that during extraordinarily challenging times for this country that we constantly keep that in mind. That’s what the people who sent us here are expecting. And I know that each of us in our own way are hopeful that because of the work that we do here we pass on something a little better and a little brighter to our kids and our grandkids."

President Obama concluded his remarks with a promise to take a picture with every child 12 and under who was waiting along the rope line, noting that there were too many guests for him to pose for a photo with everyone. (Above: A longshot of the picnic)

"I can't say no to little kids," President Obama said. "You bigger folks, you're just going to get a handshake and maybe a kiss, unless you haven't shaved."

The President and Mrs. Obama will host an even bigger picnic next week, when they welcome military families to the White House for the annual Independence Day celebration.

*The transcript of the President's remarks.

*Pool photos by Getty/AP