Since early 2011, President Obama hasn’t been able to host many bill-signing ceremonies. After two years in which the White House made arguably historic progress on its agenda in 2009, Congress hasn’t achieved any major legislative accomplishments since Republicans claimed the House majority.
But some bills still manage to get through both chambers, and though the farm bill hasn’t always risen to the level of major legislative breakthroughs, Obama and his team nevertheless decided to host a big event in East Lansing, Michigan, today to sign the new $956 billion farm bill into law.
The president won’t be joined today by any Republicans, though it’s not for lack of effort.
The president arrived with several Democratic lawmakers and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Air Force One just after noon on Friday and was greeted by the mayor of East Lansing. The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said that about 50 lawmakers — including many Republicans — had been invited to the bill signing, but that no Republicans had accepted the invitation. […]“Everyone invited has to speak for himself or herself about their decision to attend or not attend,” Mr. Carney told reporters.
Politico noted that House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) – both of whom might be expected at event like this, since they helped write the bill – are red-state incumbents facing primary challengers. Both declined invitations.
“It’s a long way,” Cochran said of the trip to Michigan. (For the record, note that the senator would have flown there and back on Air Force One.)
And while this is obviously just one bill-signing event, which in isolation is easy to overlook, the fact that every Republican invitee declined the White House’s offer should send a pretty loud signal to those Beltway pundits who still believe Obama would thrive in Washington if only he schmoozed more.
Indeed, I’m reminded once more of an anecdote from a year ago, when Obama invited several GOP lawmakers to the White House for a private screening with the stars of the movie “Lincoln.” The president extended the invitation in secret, so congressional Republicans wouldn’t face any lobbying to turn Obama down.
It didn’t matter. None of the Republicans accepted the invitation to go and watch the movie at the White House.
Indeed, as we’ve discussed before, Obama has hosted casual “get-to-know-you” gatherings; he’s taken Republicans out to dinner on his dime; he’s taken House Speaker Boehner out golfing; and he’s held Super Bowl and March Madness parties at the White House for lawmakers.
And yet, there are still many in DC who think the president’s lack of “personal connections” with Republican lawmakers is responsible for congressional gridlock on a historic scale.
The schmoozing isn’t the problem.