President Obama is at the U.S. Capitol today for his second-consecutive day of meetings with lawmakers as he works toward a deal to rein in the nation’s deficit, this time facing his arch-nemesis in government: the House Republican Conference.
It took six minutes for the president’s motorcade to travel up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, where he arrived just after 1:30 p.m. He was greeted atby House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and escorted through the Crypt in the Capitol, down to a large meeting room in the basement, where rank and file Republicans waited for the hour-long Members-only meeting to begin.
The president said, “Hi guys, how are you,” but did not answer questions as he passed the TV pool camera and a scrum of reporters and photographers.
In the House of Representatives, 232 Republicans constitute the only flicker of majority power for the GOP in the federal government. With the constitutional power of the purse, the president and Democrats must come to terms with their Republican rivals in order to manage the divided government.
In addition to a meeting with congressional leadership March 1, this is essentially the fourth step in the president’s recent charm offensive, following a meeting with Senate Democrats last Tuesday, dinner with Senate Republicans, and lunch with Paul Ryan and Chris Van Hollen last Friday.
Today’s meeting also marks the fourth time the president has sat down with the House GOP conference. They last met face-to-face in June 2011 at the White House to discuss the deficit and job creation.
With the president’s approval rating suffering after sequestration, some critics have dismissed the meetings as a publicity stunt.
Prior to the meeting, House Democrats defended the president’s outreach as a genuine attempt to bring both political parties together on a balanced approach to rebuild the economy.
“I take the president very serious,” Rep. Xavier Becerra, the House Democratic Caucus chairman, said. “There are consequences to every move the president makes. Every single word he utters is in public and so I think the president is determined to figure out a way to break this stalemate of brinksmanship and get us to work bipartisanly.”
Rep. Joe Crowley, the caucus vice chairman, described the president’s paradox in more blunt terms: “Damned if you do, but damned if you don’t.”
“Had the president not reached out, I think you all [the media] would be criticizing him for not reaching out to both Democrats and Republicans,” Crowley, D-N.Y., said. “Let’s see whether or not it doesn’t produce results.”
Still, there is likely more hope for a new Pope today, than positive prospects for a bipartisan debt deal.
“Whether it works or not, we don’t know. We’re going to see, but the president’s a serious guy,” Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., added. “He’s not doing this just ’cause, ‘Why not?’ He’s doing this ’cause he’s hoping to make some pressure with the Republicans to actually work with him.”
The White House also insists these meetings are an earnest effort to craft a compromise.
“[The president] believes strongly that it is important to engage with lawmakers of both parties in order to find common ground so that we can move forward not just on our budget issues, but on the other issues that confront us. And there is great opportunity to do that,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday. “We’re not naïve. There are disagreements and obstacles. But the President is at the head of this effort because he believes deeply in it.”
The president, however, suggested Tuesday that failure to reach a deal was, essentially, no big deal.
“Ultimately, it may be that the differences are just too wide” to get a deal, the president told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview. “That won’t- that won’t create a crisis. It just means that we will have missed an opportunity.”
Boehner and members of the Republican leadership team are expected to hold a news conference at the Capitol shortly after the meeting.