Thursday, April 11, 2013

At The White House, President Obama Hosts A Second Dinner For Senate Republicans

Over steak and greens, another Presidential effort at table-top diplomacy...
On the heels of sending his $3.77 trillion budget proposal to Congress on Wednesday, President Obama in the early evening welcomed a dozen Republican Senators to the White House for a private, closed-press dinner that lasted more than two-and-a-half hours.  Just as the sun was setting on a balmy Washington, the opposition sat down with their host at 6:41 PM in the Old Family Dining Room to discuss the budget and other issues that are front and center on President Obama's agenda.

"Tonight, the President enjoyed a constructive, wide-ranging discussion with Republican Senators that included reducing the deficit in a balanced way, reforming our broken immigration system and adopting common-sense measures to reduce gun violence," the White House said in a statement issued after the dinner ended at 9:17 PM.  

The President conducted his table-top diplomacy over a menu of green salad, steak and sautéed vegetables, the White House said.  It was his second dinner with Senators from across the aisle; he hosted a different dozen at the Jefferson Hotel on March 6th, and thus has now wooed more than half of the 45 members of the GOP serving in the Senate during the 113th Congress.

The guest list was organized at the President's behest by Sen. Johhny Isakson, in his second term from Georgia.  A member of the Finance Committee, Isakson, like his host, believes there should be a vote in the Senate on gun legislation, and has also spoken out against partisan-driven inaction.  

Isakson chose Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, John Boozman of Arkansas, Susan Collins of Maine, Michael D. Crapo of Idaho, Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Marco Rubio of Florida, John Thune of South Dakota and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

As the name implies, the yellow-walled Old Family Dining Room is typically used for family gatherings; the President has conducted each of his four personally meaningful Passover seders there.  At roughly 25 by 28 feet, the room offered an intimate if still-formal setting for what was certainly a lively discussion that would have been held around a long, rectangular burnished wood table.

And perhaps not uncoincidentally, steak, that quintessentially American dish, is the entree the President has served most often to his most important guests, including at four of his six State Dinners, and at each of his five black-tie dinners for the nation's governors.

Ahead of the dinner, Isakson praised the President for his outreach effort, speaking on Fox News, the network that has made blasting Mr. Obama a centerpiece of its programming.

"I sold houses for 33 years for a living and I never made a deal without sitting down at the table and working things out," Sen. Isakson said. 

"This is a good first step. Maybe we can find some common ground. We've got big problems. We need big solutions."  

The Senator featured the interview on his own website.

"The President thanked Sen Iskason for bringing the group together and was pleased to host the Senators for dinner tonight and looks forward to continuing bipartisan conversations in the weeks and months ahead," the White House said.

But of course the President's dinner caused a ruckus:  Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on Tuesday issued a statement criticizing the event, operating under the theory that it would be held at a restaurant rather than in the President's home, and would thus require extra security costs.  Priebus (oops!) suggested the White House would be a better place for such a gathering, and even offered to pay to have pizza delivered as a cost-saving measure.

“Instead of eating out as the president and senators did last month, I suggest they eat in," Priebus said.

"In fact, I’d like to offer to order pizza for them and have it delivered to the White House.  If we’re lucky, maybe the pizza will serve to illuminate an important economic point for President Obama: Instead of redistributing the slices, the best way to make everyone happy is to make the pie bigger."

Whether or not the President's breaking bread with the opposition makes any difference in his ability to accomplish his agenda and secure his legacy remains to be seen.  But Wednesday was a day filled with the kind of partisan rebukes that have marked the President's time in office, as Republicans responded to his budget proposal.   

But as the White House said, the President "looks forward to continuing bipartisan conversations in the weeks and months ahead."

*Photo by Pete Souza/White House