Why Obama's 'charm offensive' on Republicans isn't working

Keith Wagstaff
The Week
House Speaker John Boehner at a press conference after a meeting between the president and House Republicans, March 13.

The president and House Republicans don't seem any closer to compromise after a lengthy meeting on Capitol Hill

That we refer to basic outreach over pressing political issues as a "charm offensive" is sad enough. The aftermath of President Obama's hour-long meeting with House Republicans on Wednesday is even more depressing. Did they come any closer on issues like the budget or immigration? Highly unlikely.

"You can almost picture Boehner puffing a cigarette and yawning while watching TV coverage of Obama's so-called charm offensive," the National Journal's Ron Fournier says about House Speaker John Boehner's op-ed in The Washington Post.

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Boehner starts off with, "So it was a good meeting," which basically means, "at least we didn't kill each other," and then goes on to admonish Obama for his lack of "presidential leadership." The Washington Post's Greg Sargent offers another translation of Boehner's message: "Until Obama shows the leadership necessary to persuade members of his own party to agree to do things 100 percent our way, with Dems getting absolutely nothing in return, no deal is possible."

Republicans counter that it's Obama who isn't being serious about compromise. Paul Ryan, author of the GOP's plan to balance the budget in 10 years, questioned Obama's intentions on MSNBC's Morning Joe:

Was the so-called charm offensive a temporary poll-driven political calculation? Or was it a sincere conversion to try and bring people together and start communicating? I hope that is the case. [MSNBC]

Other Republicans were less charitable. As David Weigel says at Slate, they basically live-tweeted the entire closed-door meeting with the president. Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), referring to the recent decision to end White House tours due to the sequester, wins the subtlety award:

President to House GOP: Closing WH to Americans was not his decision, it was the Secret Service.(eyes rolling)

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— John Fleming (@RepFleming) March 13, 2013

Much of the disconnect between Obama and the Republicans concerns whether we really need to eliminate the deficit in 10 years. President Obama said as much to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, explaining that his goal "is not to chase a balanced budget just for the sake of balance. My goal is, how do we grow the economy, put people back to work."

Aside from a wide ideological divide, why else isn't Obama's so-called charm offensive working? Note that all of this griping to the press came after two supposedly touching scenes: House Republicans giving Obama a standing ovation during the meeting on Capitol Hill, and the president sitting down to a private dinner with Senate Republicans last week to hash out their differences. It's hard to get a deal done when you praise each other in private and bash each other in public, as The Hill's A.B. Stoddard notes:

Perhaps when both sides put their budget press releases away next week they will remember that only a fiscal deal will end the permanent budget crisis the country has been locked in for nearly two years, and no amount of fake charm, invitations — or even presidential denial — can change that. [The Hill]

We only hope they find common ground soon so that, at the very least, we can all stop using the term "charm offensive."

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