President Obama to Host GOP Senators for Dinner

Obama Makes Rare Request to Meeting With House, Senate Republicans at Capitol

ByABC News
March 6, 2013, 10:26 AM

WASHINGTON, March 6, 2013 -- As Washington gets socked by a snowstorm and sequester, President Obama begins a new strategy of personal outreach to congressional Republicans.

Tonight Obama will host a dinner party for a small group of 11 GOP senators, aides to several participants confirmed. Among the guests expected at the table are Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, John McCain of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

After a first term marred by gridlock with Republicans on core fiscal issues, the invite signals a new attempt to break the partisan impasse on taxes and spending cuts. The overture also suggests Obama wants to salvage prospects for his other top agenda items, including an overhaul of the nation's immigration system and a compromise on gun control.

Administration officials said tonight's meal will take place at the Jefferson Hotel, just a few blocks from the White House, and will be closed to the press. The list of guests was compiled by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina at Obama's request, an official told ABC News.

Meantime, the president has requested separate meetings next week with all House and Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill, officials said. The request was submitted by White House chief of staff Denis McDonough.

"Senate Republicans welcome the President to the Capitol. And I appreciate he took my recommendation to hear from all of my members," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a statement.

"We promised the American people that we would cut Washington spending, and the President signed those cuts into law. We have numerous challenges facing the country and Republicans have offered the President serious solutions to shrink Washington spending and grow the economy," he said. "And we will have an opportunity to discuss them with the President at the lunch."

The Senate meeting, which will take place Thursday, will the first time Obama has attended a Republican Policy Lunch in nearly three years.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said Obama has also requested a meeting with his conference "to discuss various policy matters." An exact date and time for the meeting has not been released, but given the House scheduled it seems likely for Wednesday.

The outreach marks a new approach for Obama, who spent little time directly engaging with congressional Republicans during the election campaign season or during ensuing debates over the so-called "fiscal cliff" and automatic spending cuts, known as sequester.

The president has only met once this year face-to-face with all congressional leaders -- Speaker Boehner, Leader McConnell, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- just hours before the sequester took effect last week.

At a press conference when he announced a failure to avert the spending cuts, Obama suggested he would begin a new process to forge ties with a "caucus of common sense up on Capitol Hill."

"It's a silent group right now, and we want to make sure that their voices start getting heard," Obama said of the group he described as Republican moderates. "In the coming days and in the coming weeks I'm going to keep on reaching out to them, both individually and as groups of senators or members of the House, and say to them, let's fix this -- not just for a month or two, but for years to come. "