Dinner diplomacy: Sen. Angus King on uniting Ted Cruz and Dems over a rack of ribs

Jeff Zeleny, Richard Coolidge, Alexandra Dukakis, and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

The Fine Print

Angus King may be one of only two Independent senators in Congress, but that doesn’t mean he’s excused himself from the table of party politics.

“I haven't traded lobsters, but I've bought a lot of ribs in here when I have friends for dinner – particularly senators,” the senator from Maine told “The Fine Print” during an interview at Kenny’s BBQ Smoke House in Washington, where he frequently picks up racks of ribs for bipartisan dinners he hosts at his nearby Washington home.

Menu options aside, King said he has a simple agenda for the Republicans and Democrats who sit down for dinner together at his house: Relax.

“The idea is to get us together in a kind of relaxed setting, and a non-partisan setting, because everything up there is always partisan,” King said of Congress. “You get a group of senators together and usually what you end up with is a sort of collective relaxation … telling stories about campaigns and what's going on — rarely policy.”

But relaxing isn’t always as easy it may sound, especially when you consider that King doesn’t usually tell the senators he invites who else is coming for dinner. He recalled one dinner when some guests were caught off guard upon realizing they were about to share a meal with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

“Ted Cruz went upstairs at 8 o'clock and called his kids, which apparently he does every night, and it was a nice sort of human touch,” King said. “It's easier to demonize people if you don't know them, and I find this is a sort of pretty good way to sort of try and break a little ice around here.”

As an Independent, King tries to straddle the line between the two parties. And while he currently caucuses with the Democrats, he is leaving the door open to switching sides should the Republican Party win the majority in the upcoming 2014 midterm elections.

“I’ll make that decision at the time based upon what I think is in the best interests of Maine,” said King, who was similarly non-committal in the 2012 election, refusing to pick sides until he was officially Maine’s senator-elect.

Even still, King said Republican senators eager to sway him over to the right already have a “good-natured” charm offensive in swing.

“I’ve had a lot of ‘Hey Angus, you’ll like the weather over here’ and ‘love to have you,’ and that kind of thing,” King said. “And then my Democratic friends have said ‘stay here.’”

No matter what he decides come November, King said it’s his Senate class as a whole that matters most.

“I've never been with a better group of people who gets less done. They're good people. They want to do good things for the country, but there's something about the current situation,” King said. “[This is] not a prediction, but a hope, that after these elections we may be able to change the footing somewhat and see a more productive Congress.”

To hear more from Senator King’s interview, including who his closest friends are from both sides of the Senate aisle, watch this edition of “The Fine Print.”

ABC News’ Tom Thornton, Chris Carlson and Gale Marcus contributed to this episode.