After spending part of the past three days at the Capitol, the president concluded his charm offensive with a meeting with House Democrats this afternoon, telling lawmakers he believes his recent outreach has been “fruitful” as he works to coax Congress out of a stalemate on deficit reduction.
“There is skepticism about bridging the divide, but we’ve got to try,” Obama told his Democratic colleagues, according to a source inside the closed-door meeting. “There will be a time for politics, but we just had an election. We need to govern.”
According to another source inside the meeting, the president began his remarks by expressing confidence that Congress will pass comprehensive immigration reform and meaningful gun safety legislation this year. The source said the president also thanked the caucus for sending him the Violence Against Women Act to sign into law earlier this month.
Regarding future budget negotiations, the president told the caucus that he wants a “balanced approach” with “judicious cuts” in order to solve the country’s long-term problems.
While the president’s newfound engagement has been received with a range of optimism to skepticism, House Speaker John Boehner said there are “big differences” that remain between Republicans and Democrats.
“We had an honest discussion, but this is going to take more than dinner dates and phone calls,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “It’s going to take the president and Senate Democrats rolling up their sleeves, making tough choices about how we solve our nation’s problems.”
“No more tax hikes, no more gimmicks and no more putting off what needs to be done today,” he continued. “If we work together, we can succeed. We can balance the budget. We can protect the American dream. And I hope the president and Senate Democrats will join us.”
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said he expects the top levels of Congressional leadership to continue working behind the scenes toward a bipartisan agreement in the months ahead.
“If we’re going to work towards solutions to the problems that confront us, it will have to be done in a bipartisan way. If it’s not done in a bipartisan way, we’ve seen it doesn’t get done,” Hoyer, D-Md., said. “The way we go is to continue discussions.”
As President Obama left his meeting with Senate Republicans, Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer escorted the president to the House side of the Capitol, where a waiting House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving greeted the president before leading him into the auditorium.
“It’s like moving between East and West Germany,” the president quipped as he shook hands with Irving, poking fun at the protocol of Congress for a presidential visit.
Leaving the Capitol, the president ignored most questions but said the meeting was “productive.”
“We’ve had good conversations, but ultimately it’s a matter of the House and Senate, both caucuses getting together and everybody being willing to compromise,” he said. “We’ll see what we can do.”