Wednesday, April 17, 2013

On A 'Shameful Day' In Washington, President Obama Dines With A Dozen Democratic Senators

During the closed-press dinner at the Jefferson Hotel, President Obama "vows" to continue to push his gun control agenda, White House says...
President Obama on Wednesday evening joined a dozen Democratic Senators for a 7:00 PM dinner that lasted more than two hours at the upscale Jefferson Hotel in downtown Washington.  The third dinner in a series with members of the Upper Chamber--and the first with guests from his own party--came on the heels of the Senate delivering a harsh blow to the President's agenda, rejecting a White House-backed plan for expanded background checks for gun sales.  Shortly before heading to the hotel, the angry President declared the vote "a pretty shameful day for Washington."  (Above, during his Rose Garden remarks) 

But against that emotionally charged backdrop, the closed-press dinner discussion was wide-ranging and "productive," according to a statement from a White House official, who said "the President enjoyed dinner this evening with a group of Democratic Senators" and "vowed to continue to fight to reduce gun violence."

The President's guests, who all supported the legislation, enjoyed the dinner, too: Rhode Island's Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse afterwards declared the gathering "terrific" and "lively," while Washington state's Sen. Patty Murray called it "great."  

The budget, immigration reform, and the recent events in Boston were also discussed in a private dining room over a pre-set three-course menu that included a pavé of halibut with green and white asparagus and diver sea scallops in a hazelnut emulsion. 

Murray, the senior Senator from the Evergreen State and first female chair of the Senate Budget Committee, organized the guest list at President Obama's behest.  Other attendees included Sen. Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Sens. Michael Bennet (CO); Chris Coons (DE); Dianne Feinstein (CA); Mary Landrieu (LA); Jeanne Shaheen (NH); Debbie Stabenow (Mich); Ron Wyden (OR); Mark Warner (VA); and Jack Reed (RI).

Just four Republicans voted yes on the gun cotnrol measure, and three of these were at the President's two previous dinners for GOP Senators.  Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (PA) a co-author of the legislation, and Sen. John McCain (AZ) dined with Mr. Obama on March 6th at the Jefferson.  Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who attended the President's second dinner for Senators at the White House on April 10, also gave a 'yea.'

But there was more than gun control on Wednesday's menu.

"The group had a productive discussion about a range of issues including ways to grow the economy, create jobs and strengthen the middle class," the White House said.  

"The President said he will continue to work closely with the Senate as they work through the regular order budget process to see if there is common ground with Congressional Republicans on a plan that reduces the deficit in a balanced way.  The group also discussed the important progress being made on commonsense immigration reform," the White House said.  

Wednesday dinner guests Sens. Durbin and Bennet are members of the Gang of Eight, the bipartisan group of Senators who this week introduced immigration reform legislation.  Three other members of the Gang of Eight were included in the President's two previous Senate dinners.

"The President and the Senators also discussed the explosions in Boston and the President reaffirmed that the full weight of the federal government is behind this investigation, which is being led by the FBI," the White House said.

President Obama will travel to Boston on Thursday to speak at an interfaith prayer service for the victims and families of Monday's bombing attack.  No suspects are currently in custody. 

Sens. Murray and Whitehouse dish on the dinner...
Sen. Murray also used the word "productive" to describe the presidential dinner, in a statement issued after the last bite was consumed.

"Tonight’s dinner was a very productive continuation of the conversations many of us have been having with President Obama about creating jobs, tackling our deficit and debt in a balanced and bipartisan way, and other critical issues," Murray said, though she has previously criticized the President's FY 2014 budget proposal. 

"It is clear to me that President Obama and Senate Democrats are united in our desire to end the constant lurching from crisis to crisis that is hurting middle class families and the economy."

"We also share the hope that some Republicans will finally step out of their partisan corner and join us at the table willing to offer some compromises that will help move our country and our economy forward," Murray said.

In a post-dinner interview with The Washington Post, Sen. Whitehouse gushed that the dinner was "terrific."  President Obama told his guests that "any topic you want is on the table," which created "an active, lively, jump in, jump-ball type of discussion" on a range of policy issues, Whitehouse said.

"It was a terrific dinner," Whitehouse said, and added that "it probably would have been a more cheerful evening if it weren’t for the shadow of this series of [gun] votes and the Boston [bombing] event."

Whitehouse also said the President picked up the tab for the event, as he did when he hosted the GOP dinner at the Jefferson.  Guests, said Whitehouse, were offered a range of appetizers, main courses and desserts.

But the President skipped dessert altogether, Whitehouse said, and he explained to the Senators that in light of the fact that the White House has a pastry chef, he and First Lady Michelle Obama have agreed to only eat dessert on weekends to avoid gaining weight.  Mrs. Obama has announced the same policy for the First Daughters.

Before the dinner, Press Secretary Jay Carney said the President's table-top diplomacy will continue as he pushes his agenda on Capitol Hill. 

"You can be confident that his outreach will continue and these meetings, both large and small, will continue as he seeks to work with the Senate, work with the Congress, to get common-sense business done that the American people want their elected representatives to get done," Carney told reporters.

President Obama has now had dinner with 36 members of the Senate, including more than half of the 45-member GOP contingent, but a fourth dinner has not yet been announced. 

When asked why two dinners were at the Jefferson and one at the White House, where guests joined the President in the intimate Old Family Dining Room, Carney offered little insight.

"I guess we’re just mixing it up," Carney said.

The Jefferson is located a short distance from the White House, and President Obama attended many fundraisers there during his 2012 reelection campaign.  On Wednesday, he traveled to and from the hotel by motorcade.  He was back home at the White House by 9:29 PM. 

The two GOP dinners...
The President's first dinner with Republican Senators  was on March 6th at the Jefferson Hotel, and the guest list was organized by Gang of Eight member Lindsey Graham (SC).  Attendees included Gang of Eight member John McCain (AZ); Saxby Chambliss (GA); John Hoeven (ND); Bob Corker (TN); Mike Johanns (Neb);  Richard Burr (NC); Dan Coats (Ind); Ron Johnson (WI); Pat Toomey (PA) and Kelly Ayotte (NH).   

The President's second dinner  at the White House on April 10 had a guest list organized by Sen. Johhny Isakson (GA).  Attendees included Lamar Alexander (TN); John Boozman (ARK); Susan Collins (Maine); Michael D. Crapo (ID), Michael B. Enzi (WY), Deb Fischer (Neb), Orrin G. Hatch (UT), Pat Roberts (KS), Marco Rubio (FL), a Gang of Eight member; John Thune (SD) and Roger Wicker (Miss).  

*Pool photo