Guess who’s coming to dinner? Obama invites Republicans

Olivier Knox
The Ticket

In an unusually intense personal charm offensive, President Barack Obama has invited at least 10 Republican Senators to dinner on Wednesday. And he plans to make a rare appearance next week at the Senate GOP’s weekly closed-door luncheon and meet separately with House Republicans, according to congressional officials.

Wednesday's dinner was set for 6:30 p.m. at the Jefferson Hotel, down the street from the White House. The guest list includes Republican Sen. John McCain, Obama's 2008 presidential campaign rival, along with GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham, Bob Corker, Kelly Ayotte, Tom Coburn, Dan Coats, Mike Johanns, Pat Toomey, John Hoeven and Ron Johnson, according to ABC.

Obama has also been working the phones, reaching out to individual lawmakers after a White House meeting on Friday with congressional leaders of both parties failed to yield a breakthrough on replacing painful across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration.

But the stakes are far higher than that: The president’s entire second-term agenda, including an audacious effort to overhaul the country’s immigration policy, depends on forging compromises with his political foes. Republicans can refuse to bring up legislation for a vote in the House of Representatives and, at least on paper, have the votes to block action by the Senate.

At a press conference last week, Obama alternated between vaguely self-pitying expressions of helplessness in the face of GOP intransigence—reminding the public he is neither “a dictator” nor can he wield a “Jedi mind meld”—and a more can-do vow to redouble his efforts to work with a congressional “caucus of common sense.”

His plan: Revive negotiations on a “grand bargain” to reduce government deficits by some $4 trillion over 10 years with a blend of spending cuts and tax increases.

“In the coming days and in the coming weeks, I’m going to keep on reaching out to them, both individually and as groups of senators or members of the House, and say to them, 'Let’s fix this—not just for a month or two, but for years to come,'” he said.

As part of what appears to be a new era of outreach, Obama will also join Senate Republicans at their weekly closed-door lunch next week, GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Wednesday. Obama requested the March 14 meeting on Tuesday through his chief of staff.

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

“We promised the American people that we would cut Washington spending, and the president signed those cuts into law. We have numerous challenges facing the country, and Republicans have offered the president serious solutions to shrink Washington spending and grow the economy," the Kentucky Republican said. "And we will have an opportunity to discuss them with the president at the lunch.”

Obama last attended a Senate Republican luncheon on May 25, 2010, according to McConnell's office.

On Friday, the president met with McConnell, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Republicans broadly dismissed that discussion as an 11th-hour photo op. The two sides have been at war over painful automatic spending cuts hitting federal agencies across the board, reductions known in Washington as sequestration.

Those cuts are expected to slow already sluggish economic growth and cost as many as 750,000 jobs by hitting agencies across the board rather than making considered reductions to bloated or wasteful programs. House Republicans have charged that the White House had 18 months between the time when Obama signed the cuts into law to come up with a plan to replace them and failed to do so. That claim is untrue.

Obama has also requested a meeting with House Republicans next week, but that has yet to be scheduled, Boehner chief of staff, Mike Sommers, said in an email message to GOP lawmakers on Wednesday.