By Kathleen Hennessey and Lisa Mascaro
12:06 PM EST, March 6, 2013
WASHINGTON -- President Obama appears to be trying to thaw chilly relations with lawmakers as he pushed through the latest budget battle while moving on to other parts of his second-term agenda.
Obama will head to Capitol Hill next week to visit Republican senators behind closed doors at their weekly luncheon, the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced Wednesday. The president also has invited GOP senators to dinner this week, according to senators.
Meanwhile, House Speaker John A. Boehner’s office notified members in an email Wednesday that the president has requested time with Republicans sometime next week “to discuss various policy matters.” The Ohio Republican’s office said the meeting was still being scheduled.
The White House did not immediately confirm the invitations. But this week, White House officials acknowledged the president has been dialing rank-and-file Republicans to discuss budget talks, as well as other issues, including immigration legislation and gun-control measures.
Notably, the calls did not include the Republican leaders who have been the target of much of the president’s time and attention. With little goodwill or trust to show for that effort, Obama’s calls show the president is aiming to find allies elsewhere in the GOP ranks. Obama’s call list included Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), all veterans of past bipartisan deals.
More than 10 GOP senators are due to dine with the president Wednesday. The guest list includes Coburn, McCain, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Dan Coats of Indiana, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Bob Corker of Tennessee, according to the senators.
“We need to have this dialogue. I'm glad the president's doing it,” McCain said.
Corker, seen as a rising GOP leader on budget issues, said, “I do sense there's a window of opportunity.”
The president’s outreach comes as the White House moves into a new phase of its ongoing fiscal fight with Republicans in Congress. Despite dire warnings from the White House, Democrats and Republicans did not come together last week to block $85 billion in automatic budget cuts from kicking in this year.
Both parties' leaders seem prepared to move past the next major hurdle -- a March 27 deadline for funding the government -- with little drama or threats of a shutdown. That means the budgets cuts, which both sides once claimed to loathe, seem increasingly likely to stand unless a new deficit-reduction deal can be forged without the pressure of a hard deadline.
Obama’s outreach may be an effort to begin greasing the skids for such a deal. It may also be part of his effort to refocus attention on other parts of his agenda.
“I want to make clear that he’s not -- when he talks to lawmakers, it’s not just on one subject,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday. “You have seen that we continue to work on immigration reform; we continue to work on measures to reduce gun violence; we continue to work on all of the items on the president’s agenda. And conversations he’s having with lawmakers include those issues as well, not just our fiscal challenges.”
Times staff writer Michael A. Memoli contributed to this report.