Fourteen congressional leaders will lunch with President Obama and Vice President Biden on Friday, the first meeting of its kind since the GOP made historic gains and retook control of the Senate.
The lunch meeting in the Old Family Dining Room is the latest in the president’s mostly stilted efforts to negotiate with Congress. The president has been widely criticized for not working with Republicans enough — criticism that was redoubled when he let it slip that he didn’t know what soon-to-be Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s drink of choice was by suggesting they talk over some Kentucky bourbon. (McConnell prefers a Manhattan, on the rocks, with two cherries.)
The president–flanked by Congressional leaders–spoke to reporters just ahead of the lunch. He promised not to judge ideas based on which party they come from.
“The American people just want to see work done by Washington, they’re frustrated by gridlock,” he said. “All of us have the responsibility, me in particular, to try and make that happen”
The lawmakers will likely discuss both the next two months of the lame-duck Congress as well as the GOP’s plans once they take control of the upper chamber in January.
Democrats are hoping to push through much of the legislation bottle-necked in the Senate, including bills that would revive expired tax breaks, avoid a government shutdown, and approve much of the backlog of presidential nominations before they hand over the keys to the Senate, The Washington Post reported on Friday.
At the end of 2010, when Democrats were in lame-duck status in the House, there was a rash of legislative productivity. A nuclear arms treaty, tax cuts, and the repeal of a ban on gays in the military all were passed before Republicans took the reins in January 2011.
Republicans eager to start working on their top priorities for the 2015 Senate may be cooperative in new efforts to get long dormant legislation passed, the Post reports, but even then it’s unlikely the Senate will be able to work through the significant backlog of federal nominations.
At Friday’s lunch, both Republicans and the president plan to talk about how to further boost the economy, though Obama continues to remind the public that the economy has already shown signs of recovery and unemployment is the lowest its been in years.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the leaders of both Democratic and Republican caucuses this afternoon to have a chance to share with them both what I think we need to be doing to build on the economic momentum that we already have and make it even stronger,” Obama said ahead of the meeting.
Walking out of the Capitol to lunch, House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy said his number one message to the president was jobs. “We have 387 bills that have sat in that Senate. We should start moving them right away to create more jobs in America.”
(The Washington Post Fact Checker took a look at this common GOP refrain on Friday: indeed, there are just under 350 bills bottled up in the Senate now, but that’s nothing new. In fact, when Democrats controlled both chambers there were 700 bills bottled up in the Senate. In 11 of the past 19 Congresses, more than 300 bills were bottled up in the Senate when Congress adjourned.)
On the GOP side, Sens. Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, John Thune and Jon Barrasso, and Reps. John Boehner, Kevin McCarthy and Cathy McMorris Rodgers will attend. Senate Democrats Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer and Patty Murray, and House Reps. Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, James Clyburn and Xavier Becerra will represent the left. (Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Steve Scalise were invited but could not attend due to scheduling conflicts.)
News of the meeting came Thursday, as Republican leaders spouted legislative goals – repealing Obamacare and building the Keystone XL pipeline were at the top of the list – and the White House attempted to paint themselves as cooperative and ready to work across the aisle.
Already, two major impasses have emerged: The GOP has vowed to repeal the president’s signature legislation, Obamacare, and the president has promises to use his executive authority to move forward on immigration.
Obama says repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate is “a line I can’t cross” and the GOP says that the president’s planned executive order will “burn” the president and “poison the well.”