ABC News’ Mary Bruce, John Parkinson and Sunlen Miller Report:
For the first time since last summer, President Obama met at the White House this afternoon with congressional leadership to try and identify some areas of legislative common ground.
What may be even more unusual than their rare meeting, however, is the positive tone coming out of the discussion, with leaders on both sides of the aisle using words like “fruitful,” “hopeful,” “cordial” and “substantive” to describe the hour-long meeting.
The White House lunch, attended by the president, vice president and the Democratic and Republican leader in both chambers of Congress, was the first time the group has met as a whole since last July, during the height of the debt ceiling negotiations.
With no looming deadlines or government default on the horizon, the Republican leaders and the White House are reporting that progress was made.
“It was a constructive and cordial meeting,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters at the afternoon briefing.
The president, vice president and congressional leaders discussed ways to build on the political momentum from the recent bipartisan deal to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance, focusing on energy policy and job creation.
“There is reason to hope that the conventional wisdom that holds that Congress held by the opposition party or largely controlled by the opposition party cannot get any business done with the president in an election year is wrong,” Carney said. “If folks focus on the areas of agreement and work in a cooperative, bipartisan fashion, we can advance the American people’s agenda.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, left the meeting hopeful that the Democratic leaders may finally consider some of the bipartisan energy and jobs bills passed by the House, and he said he was “encouraged by the attitude and the tone that we had during the meeting.”
“We had a positive lunch at the White House today and I think we discussed a number of areas where I believe there is common ground between the two political parties – particularly on jobs and on energy,” Boehner told reporters afterwards. “We offered to work with the president on some of those bipartisan bills again that have been passed by the House. The president believed that there were some areas where we could find common ground and frankly I was encouraged by that.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was also encouraged that Senate Democrats appear willing to begin moving on some of the House-passed jobs bills awaiting further consideration in the Senate.
“The bottleneck to accomplishing things on a bipartisan basis has actually been the United States Senate,” McConnell said. “I hope that the majority leader, who is responsible obviously for deciding which bills we turn to, will turn to bills that can actually pass and be signed into law.”
As for tackling the country’s energy challenges, McConnell and Boehner emphasized a talking point the president has also repeated lately, calling for an “all-of-the-above” policy in light of the rising cost of gas. The president has blasted Republicans in recent weeks for focusing too much on drilling, touting his administration’s wide-ranging energy policy, while Republicans contend that the president is finally coming around to a belief the GOP has held the past few years in calling for an all-of-the-above energy policy.
“We talked about a number of energy policies. We talked about those bills that have come out of the House. The president thought that on some of those, we could find some common ground,” Boehner revealed. “I did press the president on the Keystone Pipeline. The president said, ‘Well, you’re going to get part of it.’ I just wish we were getting the part that would actually deliver the oil out of Canada and out of North Dakota.”
“The part of the Keystone pipeline we’re getting the president has nothing to do with,” McConnell added. “It doesn’t require his approval to build a pipeline from Oklahoma to the Gulf [of Mexico]. We hope he will reconsider. The unions that are going to build that pipeline are aggressively in favor of moving ahead. We know the thing was studied for four years already. We know the Nebraska issue’s been solved. There’s really no reason not to create those jobs now, rather than after the president’s election.”
Even though it was the first time the group had met together since last summer, and the speaker said the leaders were limited in the scope of their discussion, Boehner said he thought it was a “a very fruitful conversation.”
“We only had an hour. Couldn’t cover the whole waterfront of issues, but I think we’ve outlined what the discussion was and we’ll see whether there’s another lunch invitation anytime soon,” he said. “The president’s support of the JOBS Act was very clear, and I think his comments about trying to find some common ground on some of our bipartisan energy bills were also welcomed signs.”