Wednesday, March 06, 2013

President Obama Gets The Thumbs Up After Private Dinner With Republican Senators

Sens. McCain, Chambliss, Coburn, Ayotte, & Graham are on guest list...
UPDATE:  The President was "pleased," says WH  
After weeks of rebuking Republicans for the chilly political gridlock that led to sequestration going into effect, President Obama wined and dined a dozen rank-and-file GOP Senators with a closed-press dinner outside the White House on Wednesday night.  Held at the swank five-star Jefferson Hotel, located just a few blocks from the presidential mansion, the dinner lasted a little more than two hours.  President Obama arrived by motorcade at 6:28 PM, and after he was safely back home, a senior White House official offered a rosy, if very brief, recap.

"The President greatly enjoyed the dinner and had a good exchange of ideas with the Senators," said the White House official.

Two of Mr. Obama's guests indicated that they also enjoyed themselves, or at least appreciated the President's rare attempt to socialize across the aisle.  As they separately exited the bipartisan bread-breaking, Sens. John McCain (AZ) and Tom Coburn (OK) each gave the thumbs-up sign to a waiting scrum of reporters gathered on a street corner outside the hotel. 

The dinner was "terrible," McCain joked when first queried about the gathering, but then added that the dinner was "just fine" as he held his thumb in the air.  Once-upon-a-time, long before the sequester was an evil glimmer in anyone's eye, McCain had a bloody battle with his host for White House ownership.

The White House announced the names of the guests after the dinner was over: They included Saxby Chambliss (GA); John Hoeven (ND); Bob Corker (TN); Mike Johanns (Neb); Lindsey Graham (SC); Richard Burr (NC); Dan Coats (Ind); Ron Johnson (WI); Pat Toomey (PA) and Kelly Ayotte (NH), the lone woman in the bunch.  During the President's first term, publicly announcing the refusal of a White House invitation was something of a GOP badge of honor, though only one of the invitees (Graham) is up for re-election next year.  And Johanns has announced he will retire after his term--his first--concludes.    

Because the $16 trillion deficit and the lack of a budget were ostensibly the subject of dinner chat, the White House official noted that Mr. Obama paid the tab out of his own pocket.  Not so difficult code for:  Taxpayers were spared the expense.  Immigration reform and gun control, key on the President's agenda, were also ostensibly topics of discussion.

But exactly what ideas were "exchanged?"  The White House did not offer details.  Did the President entertain his guests in the Jefferson's pricey Plume restaurant, where a special tasting menu can cost as much as $1,000, or in a private room?  The White House did not offer details.  

Did the President dine on steak, as is a habit?  The self-proclaimed "most transparent Administration in history" only offered the tidbits recorded above, which were almost as sparse as the snow that fell during the day for the under-performing winter storm Saturn, locally known as "snowquester."

"The White House is treating the dinner details as state secrets," pool complained to fellow reporters in an email missive sent mid-meal, while being held far away from all the action. 

The Jefferson was ostensibly chosen as a "neutral" location, but the President attended so many fundraisers there during the course of his 2012 re-election campaign that it did double duty as his own private donors' lounge. 

Meanwhile, across town on the Senate floor, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was in the midst of an epic talking filibuster that had been going on since shortly after 11:00 AM on Wednesday, protesting President Obama's nomination of John Brennan as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  Paul was joined by fellow Republicans in his herculean marathon; clearly there's plenty more across-the-aisle, across-the-board outreach for the President to do.

He'll have another chance next week.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement earlier on Wednesday that President Obama will join a March 14 lunch in the Capitol with the Republican caucus.

"Senate Republicans welcome the president to the Capitol.  And I appreciate he took my recommendation to hear from all of my members,” McConnell said.  

After McConnell tipped the press about that, Press Secretary Jay Carney later in the day issued this statement about the President's schedule:  "Next week, the President will travel to Capitol Hill and meet separately with the Democratic and Republican caucuses in both the House and Senate.  The President asked for the opportunity to speak to the caucuses about the priorities on his legislative agenda.  More details about the time and day of each meeting will be announced later."

The President was back home at the White House, via motorcade, at 8:48 PM on Wednesday.  His next dinner outside the White House will be this Saturday, when he attends the annual Gridiron Club dinner in DC.

*Photo by Pete Souza/White House