Inside The White House’s Bourbon-Less Lunch With Congressional Leaders

It was a spirited meeting, but no spirits were served.

ByDEVIN DWYER and JONATHAN KARL
November 7, 2014, 6:25 PM

— -- It was a spirited meeting, and no spirits were served.

President Obama’s post-election luncheon with congressional leaders, meant to rekindle trust and goodwill, today devolved into a tense standoff over immigration, according to sources familiar with the meal.

House Speaker John Boehner delivered a blunt warning that if the president goes forward with his plan to issue an executive order, it will destroy any chances of passing immigration reform legislation and make it much more difficult to work together on other issues, the sources said.

Yesterday, Boehner likened the move to playing with matches, saying Obama would burn himself.

But the president and the White House signaled that they are determined to move forward with an executive order on immigration before the end of the year -- something the president pledged repeatedly in recent months with Congress failing to take action on repairs to the broken system.

“Why can’t we separate the issues? Keep your disappointment focused on immigration? It shouldn’t affect what we do” on other issues like taxes, trade, infrastructure, etc., Obama said in essence, according to one person familiar with the conversation.

At the top of the meeting, which lasted over two hours in the Old Family Dining Room, the leaders sat stone-faced as Obama welcomed them.

Boehner and McConnell, who have been almost giddy in recent appearances over Republican gains in the midterm election, didn’t so much as crack a smile. Democratic Leaders Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi sat expressionless as well, the sources said.

Fittingly, red was the tie choice of the day for most, except Obama – as Reid, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, Obama adviser Tony Podesta, Boehner, McConnell and even Vice President Joe Biden all donned the color of the GOP.

The menu included a salad of bibb lettuce, frisee and endive with heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers and a toasted shallot dressing; herb-crusted sea bass with tomato-lemon confit with grilled vegetables; and a pumpkin tart with vanilla whipped cream and candied ginger.

Bourbon was not served, despite President Obama’s desire to share a glass of the spirit of Kentucky with the likely soon-to-be Republican Senate Majority Leader from the same state.

The lunch included an extensive conversation on Iraq and Syria, including a briefing from CENTCOM Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin on the plan to send additional U.S. troops. Republicans told the president they are open to a new authorization of military force, but they want the president to send a proposal to Congress first.

There was consensus from Democrats and Republicans that debate and discussion on the ISIS resolution should start during the lame duck session, but that the vote should not happen until the new year – after the new Congress is sworn in.

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