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Obama Steps Up Outreach to Republicans, But Hurdles Remain

Sen. John McCain flashes the thumb-up following a dinner with President Obama and a group of fellow Republican senators on Wednesday in Washington. Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

The Morning Line

The cherry blossoms are still a few weeks away from peak bloom, but olive branches are sprouting up all over Washington this week.

One week after politicians in this town abandoned any hopes of a deal to avert $85 billion in budget cuts, the mood seems to have shifted toward possible compromise.

The White House wants everyone to know that President Barack Obama is on a “charm offensive,” a term that dozens of reporters used in stories describing the president’s activities over the last few days. (We fess up — we did too.)

The House and Senate won’t attempt to reconcile dueling spending blueprints until later this month, and then there are the upcoming battles over the 2014 fiscal budget and raising the country’s borrowing limit.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Budget ranking member Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., enjoyed lentil soup, broiled sea bass and roasted vegetables at a private lunch with the president that drew Ryan’s praise. They had a “frank discussion about Washington’s budget challenges,” the 2012 vice presidential nominee said in a statement.

Ryan is expected to unveil his budget blueprint next week. The release of the president’s plan is still unclear, but could come as late as April 8.

Still, the words “grand bargain” are starting to surface again and lawmakers are suggesting they feel more optimistic the White House is listening.

The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Rosalind Helderman report the president treated Senate Republicans to “a dinner of hamachi tartare, lamb and lobster” on Wednesday night, as well as to the details of his plan for deficit reduction:

At Wednesday’s dinner, attendees said, Obama was specific about his ideas. He laid the same framework of spending cuts that he offered to Boehner in December in their negotiations to avert the year-end “fiscal cliff.” Obama’s offer included more than $500 billion in cuts to health programs in addition to the new revenue from capping tax deductions and eliminating loopholes.

Attendees said the president also endorsed a new way to calculating inflation that would result in reducing Social Security benefits over time — something many Democratic lawmakers strongly oppose.

In a piece questioning whether a meal can really win over a politico foe, the New York Times’ Jeremy Peters writes that the president did more listening than talking. One senator estimated he spoke just 10 percent of the meal.

And The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reported that Mr. Obama set a deadline of four to five months for coming to an agreement during the dinner.

From Bolton’s story:

A GOP lawmaker who met with Obama said the accelerated timeline has two advantages. Reaching a broad deficit deal by August would allow the president to avoid another messy standoff over raising the debt limit. The president, who has said he will not negotiate on the debt limit, believes it will be harder to forge a major deal in September and beyond, as both parties begin to position themselves for the 2014 mid-term election.

Next Wednesday, the president will do something he hasn’t done since January 2009 — meet with House Republicans on their turf in the basement of the Capitol. He is expected to huddle with Senate Republicans and members of his own party as well.

Still, this is Washington. So don’t hold your breath for a great compromise just yet.


House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi appeared on the NewsHour Thursday to offer a strong defense of the president on budget negotiations. She said his outreach effort to Republicans is particularly gracious. Pelosi also said Congress should have a strong oversight role in national security matters.

Watch here or below:

Woodruff also talked with Pelosi about immigration reform efforts and gun control legislation for an extra segment online.

Watch that here or below:


  • Seventeen years after signing the Defense of Marriage Act, former President Bill Clinton writes an op-ed in the Washington Post explaining why he now thinks it should be overturned.
  • Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., announced Thursday he would not seek a seventh term, giving Democrats a fourth open Senate seat to defend in 2014.
  • National Journal peeks at the Kentucky origins of Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster, noting that he first broached the idea over lasagna and red wine with the man Paul and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have in common: Jesse Benton, who besides being married to Paul’s niece, ran his 2010 campaign and worked for his dad, but is now advising McConnell’s 2014 re-election.
  • And Politico’s Lois Romano explores Paul’s own presidential ambition.
  • Roll Call dove in to the #standwithRand effort, and found some activists think McConnell waited too long to show support for his fellow Kentuckian.
  • Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is the target of a television ad running in Iowa. The spot, which has less than $5,000 behind it, is from a Virginia-based super PAC, and slams the Republican governor for his recently-approved transportation plan that included fresh tax revenues.
  • Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is headed to the early presidential primary state of South Carolina.
  • So that’s where their money was going. A man working at a check-processing company in Kentucky was arrested this week for embezzling $250,000 from the Democratic Governors Association. From July 2010 to September 2012, he swindled DGA checks, depositing them in his own account.
  • National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar sees the Senate at risk for Democrats in 2014.
  • The Sunlight Foundation suggests the Obama campaign offshoot Organizing for Action is a “dark money” group. And in a reversal, this latest version of OFA now says it won’t take corporate donations after all.
  • Roll Call’s Jonathan Strong traces onetime National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Colorado Rep. Tom Cole’s distancing from the Republican Party, beginning with his early support for extending middle class tax cuts during fiscal cliff negotiations to calling opponents of the Violence Against Women Act racist.
  • The New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg looks at Latino political fundraisers and their rising influence.
  • Al Kamen publishes a West Wing seating chart.
  • Martha’s Vineyard is preparing for another presidential summer vacation.
  • Chris Cillizza posts his list of the best state-based political blogs. We’re surprised no one nominated The Mudflats in Alaska.
  • Maybe he just really likes Thin Mints?
  • Today’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA: When their median weekly wage is adjusted for inflation, men make less money — and women make more — than they did in 1979.


  • Jeffrey Brown reported on the politics behind Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster and asked Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski and the New York Times’ Scott Shane to break down both the political and practical implications of the opposition to John Brennan as CIA director. Watch that here or below.

  • Ellen Rolfes put together some handy filibuster facts. Did you know the term comes from a Dutch word meaning “pirate?”
  • The day after Arkansas passed the most restrictive abortion law in the nation, Hari Sreenivasan talked with Reuters reporter Suzi Parker about how the Republican-controlled legislature overrode the Democratic governor’s veto and how the ban on abortions after 12 weeks is expected to be challenged in court. Watch their conversation here or below.

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Simone Pathe and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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