WASHINGTON — President Obama’s newly initiated charm offensive with Republicans just might work as he tries to resolve the recently enacted sequester cuts and attempts to avert another budget showdown near the end of the month, lawmakers on Capitol Hill said today.
“If we’re going to really get to an agreement, this is a good step,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told George Stephanopoulos on ABC News’ “This Week.” “You have to start meeting with people. You have to start developing relationships. You’ve got to spend a fair amount of time figuring out what we agree on first.”
“I’m welcoming with open arms. I think the president is tremendously sincere. I don’t think this is just a political change in tactic,” Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who called the president “my friend” said on NBC’s ”Meet the Press.
“It’s time to start leading, and the way you do that is quit poking your finger in people’s eyes and start building relationships, and I think he’s got a great chance to accomplish a big deal,” he said. “But, you know, you’ve got a lot of scabs and sores on people that it’s going to take a while for that to heal.”
Coburn and Johnson were among the 12 Republican senators who dined with Obama at the Jefferson Hotel earlier this week — the president’s first overture in his GOP courtship. On Thursday, he sat down for lunch at the White House with Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget committee, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the committee, a meeting Ryan described as his first ever detailed discussion with the president.
“This is the first time I’ve ever had a conversation with the president lasting more than, say, two minutes or televised exchanges,” Ryan said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I’ve never really had a conversation with him, on these issues before. I am excited that we had the conversation. We had a very frank exchange. We come from different perspectives. I ran against him in the last election.”
Ryan said the budget plan he will unveil later this week will “promote repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a better system.”
Next week, the president is expected to continue his wooing of lawmakers, traveling to Capitol Hill over three days as he attends each party’s weekly meetings.
“He’s coming to the House conference, which I think is positive. He’s only done that once before, but he should come and listen and communicate and try to find where we can find common ground, where can we bring that accountability back to government. That’s what Republicans are looking for,” House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“Any time that both parties are talking, it’s a good thing,” he said. “Now, this should have happened four years ago. I’m glad it’s happening now. But is this about politics or is this genuine?”
Democrats also said the president’s outreach was a positive step.
“I think the meetings are a good idea because you understand each other better and you may get a measure of courage,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said on CNN’s “State of the Union. “All of us come here to get a job done for the American people, and certainly that is the case with the president of the United States. He’s been very bipartisan in his approach.
“These meetings are not something to say, well I’ll do this with you now, and I’ll do that with them later,” she said. “I think it is let’s get some things done together to make elections less important. Let’s come together for the benefit of the American people.”
But as the president makes strides to meet with Republicans in the coming weeks, Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said he doesn’t expect the outreach to result in an agreement immediately, saying on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “I hope that he’s genuine, but I don’t think we’ll be doing the Harlem Shake anytime soon.”