President’s Outreach to Hill Republicans Collides with CPAC

BY Christina Bellantoni and Katelyn Polantz  March 14, 2013 at 9:11 AM EDT

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, arrives in the basement of the Capitol for a meeting with President Barack Obama and House Republicans Wednesday. Boehner described the 80-minute session as a “very frank and candid exchange of ideas” that he found “productive.” Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

The Morning Line

Here’s a political pop quiz to start your Thursday.

What will matter more in the long run as the nation’s lawmakers tackle big questions about government spending, tax rates and cutting the deficit?

a) A freewheeling Republican question-and-answer session with President Barack Obama, or b) the anti-Obama red meat expected from conservatives taking the stage during a major 3-day confab in Washington.

In the answer lies the struggle for policymakers as they attempt to bust through gridlock that has crippled the nation’s Capitol for years.

Politicians in both parties say they are looking to compromise for the good of the country. Mr. Obama is signaling with his outreach that he at least wants to appear to be working together with his political rivals.

But each side wants to win, and with the 2014 midterm elections a crucial test, perhaps it is impossible for deal-making to be done in a vacuum.

The Daily Beast acquired quotes from the president telling the House GOP conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday that he is facing scrutiny from liberals. Two lawmakers quoted the president as saying: “You should read The Huffington Post and see how I’m getting slapped around by the left. They think I’m giving everything away to you guys every day.”

Roll Call’s Jonathan Strong breaks down each questioner’s query to the president, including discussion of the Keystone pipeline, taxes and the sequester.

Politico’s behind-the-scenes piece focused on Republicans saying they had heard what Mr. Obama said before.

And some members told reporters they bristled when the president described his revamped campaign organization as not focused on the next election, especially given he planned to speak with the group later that night.

Officially, both sides called it a “good” meeting.

“The president handled a variety of questions on a range of topics from the members and reinforced his strong desire, especially now that the election is over, to find bipartisan common ground on a range of legislative priorities,” a White House official told reporters. “He noted that they did not need to resolve all policy differences to make progress on challenges facing the country where there is agreement.”

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, penned a Washington Post op-ed suggesting he’d heard it all before. From the piece:

If we’re going to find bipartisan solutions, the president will have to move beyond the same proposals and Democratic dogma. For all of Washington’s focus on the president’s outreach to Republicans, it’s his engagement with members of his own party that will determine whether we succeed in dealing with the challenges facing our economy.

In a statement, Boehner described the 80-minute session as a “very frank and candid exchange of ideas” that he found “productive.” He noted there are “some very real differences between our two parties like issues jobs, balancing the budget and what do we do to get our economy moving again.”

“But, having said that, today was a good start, and I hope that these kinds of discussions can continue,” Boehner said. “Even though we have very real differences, our job is to find common ground to do the work the American people sent us here to do.”

The olive branches extended over the course of the president’s meetings this week on Capitol Hill — he’ll meet with Senate Republicans over lunch Thursday and House Democrats in the afternoon — aren’t expected to get much mention as 8,000 activists gather to hear some of the Republican party’s top stars at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The opening speaker is Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who does not hold the president’s policies in high regard. The stage will be peppered with conservative bomb-throwers never timid about criticizing Mr. Obama, from ex-Rep. Allen West, Fla., to Sen. Rand Paul, Ky., and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Breakout sessions will focus on national security, fears about becoming a nanny state and one panel focuses on “Lessons They Have Learned and We Haven’t: The Europeanization of America.”

And that’s just on Thursday. Later at CPAC, activists will be treated to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and reality television’s Donald Trump. Mitt Romney will appear for his first public speech since losing his presidential bid last fall.

We’ll be livestreaming the majority of the CPAC speeches on Thursday and Friday. Follow along here starting at 9 a.m.

On PBS NewsHour Wednesday, Judy Woodruff explored the question of whether bipartisanship has ever been effective in Washington with presidential historian Michael Beschloss and Marc Hetherington, an author and political science professor at Vanderbilt University. Their discussion addressed how today’s climate of political polarization may be different from past partisan divides as early as the Civil War.

Watch the segment here or below:


LINE ITEMS

  • The president spoke at a fundraising dinner Wednesday for Organizing for Action, the political action group born out of Obama for America’s grassroots campaign network. Bloomberg News reports some unenthused OFA backers are reluctant to open their wallets so soon after Mr. Obama’s re-election, and that this dinner asked attendees for a $50,000 suggested donation.

  • White House spokesman Jay Carney faced more questions Wednesday on the sequestration-related cancellation of White House tours. Amie Parnes of The Hill examined how the cancellations may have backfired on the president. And Roll Call’s Emma Dumain writes that tourists should get used to sequester-induced long lines at the Capitol.

  • Republican members of Congress want access to the supposed Walter Reed Hospital patients who were injured in the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi last September.

  • Politico reports Mr. Obama said he was better than former Vice President Dick Cheney when Democratic senators confronted him at a closed-door meeting Tuesday on drone policies.

  • Glenn Thrush profiles Denis McDonough, the president’s new chief of staff who’s likely behind the so-called “charm offensive.”

  • The Associated Press reports on the sweeping multistate investigation of a Florida charity that “led to nearly 60 people indicted and the resignation of the state’s lieutenant governor,” Republican Jennifer Carroll. Attorney General Pam Bondi says charges “will include racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering and possession of slot machines.”

  • The Washington Post’s Peter Finn tracks the NRA’s involvement in gun laws.

  • Meredith Shiner of Roll Call lists 10 things to know about the Senate Democrats’ budget.

  • Republicans were gloating Wednesday about this tweet from former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder questioning Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Terry McAuliffe’s experience. The Virginian Pilot ran a story on the same topic Wednesday.

  • The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $6.3 million in February but still is carrying $10.9 million of debt. The National Republican Congressional Committee raised $5 million last month.

  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a new website promoting immigration reform.

  • The House passed legislation by a vote of 246-181 to prevent the Department of Health and Human Services from allowing states to waive the welfare-work requirement. Both parties have at times supported the waiver, but Republicans — resurrecting a Mitt Romney campaign attack — have pounced on the administration’s authority to issue a waiver that they see dismantling welfare reform.

  • Former Congressman Allen West is starting an issues advocacy group to support a new generation of minority conservatives.

  • Pope Francis wasn’t the only one chosen for a new job Wednesday. Mr. Obama appointed Melissa Rogers as the new director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. In 2009, she headed a committee recommending ways to overhaul the office.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham is getting some Palmetto State love for his efforts to craft immigration reform, with the Evangelical Immigration Table, Republicans for Immigration Reform and a Partnership for a New American Economy joining forces to air ads praising the Republican senator on his home turf.

  • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution scoops that Rep. Phil Gingrey is preparing to run for retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ seat in Georgia. That would bring the race among Republicans to two.*

  • Michelle Obama will be on the cover of Vogue again, with bangs, of course, the Washington Post’s Robin Givhan writes.

  • If Hannah Horvath is the voice not only of a generation, but of U.S. geopolitical strategy, is America headed for humiliation on the world stage? We’ll wait for the Lena Dunham Doctrine on that one.

  • Today’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA: one-third of American families couldn’t pay their medical bills in 2011.

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Politics desk assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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*Correction appended.