With negotiations at a standstill, President Obama and Vice President Biden ventured outside the White House for lunch today, visiting a nearby deli to draw public attention to the government shutdown and urge Republicans to reopen the government.
Obama, in shirtsleeves, and Biden, sporting his signature aviators, strolled out of the White House to cheers from surprised tourists and walked a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue to Taylor Gourmet, a sandwich shop that is offering a 10 percent discount to workers furloughed because of the shutdown.
"Part of the reason we're here is, we're starving and the food here is great. The other part of it, though, is that right now this establishment is providing a 10 percent discount to all federal workers who are on furlough - plus a cookie - and that I think is an indication of how ordinary Americans look out for each other and aren't obsessed with politics and aren't trying to extract concessions out of each other," the president told reporters and the crowd of diners at Taylor's, before placing his lunch order.
"Right now, the House of Representatives has the opportunity to do the exact same thing," he said. "This shutdown could be over today…. If Speaker Boehner would simply allow that vote to take place, we can end this shutdown and a whole bunch of families, not just here in Washington, but all across the country, will have the certainty that a paycheck will be coming."
The president pushed back against an anonymous administration official who was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying the White House is "winning" the shutdown fight. "There is no winning when families don't have certainty about whether they are going to get paid or not," Obama said. "As long as they're off the job, nobody's winning."
Once again, Obama reiterated that he's happy to negotiate with Republicans but only after they reopen the government and agree to raise the debt ceiling and eliminate the threat of default. "I am happy to have negotiations with the Republicans and Speaker Boehner on a whole range of issues, but we can't do it with a gun held to the head of the American people," he said.
After his brief remarks, the president turned his attention to lunch. Obama ordered the "Race Street" sub (roasted turkey, prosciutto, pesto and mozzarella) and water, while Biden opted for the "9th Street Italian" (salami, capicola, prosciutto and provolone) and a lemonade.
There was much discussion about the dessert portion of the meal. When someone suggested he get a cookie, the president reminded the employees behind the counter that "I'm not on furlough" and was not eligible for their free cookie offer.
Biden eagerly added a tasty treat to his order and told the president, "I'm not giving you my cookie," when Obama suggested they share. After sampling some of the different options, Obama decided to get a cookie of his own. "That's a tasty cookie right there," he exclaimed.
Obama has turned to Taylor Gourmet before in the midst of budget battles with Republicans. Last May, he visited their 14th Street location for takeout, bringing sandwiches back for a White House meeting with congressional leaders - an attempt at hoagie diplomacy.
The president picked up the tab today, which came to $21.56, before venturing outside to greet the large crowd excitedly gathered on the street. "Hang tough, Mr. President," an onlooker reportedly told Obama. "You're doing the right thing," said another.