Opinion: What really went on in those closed Obama-GOP meetings today


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Word is now seeping out about President Obama’s meetings on Capitol Hill today with Republican members. It’s part of the president’s effort to be seen as willing to deal with both sides; in fact, there’s some Democratic grumbling that he met with GOP members of the House and Senate first.

Be careful about what you hear either side say in public for the cameras. Remember, all House members have to run next year, and many were elected by constituents who’ve had enough of economic stimulus packages that don’t seem to work. And Democrats are being watched to see that they deliver on their fall campaign promises.


White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs described the sessions as ‘cordial’ and part of an ongoing process to build consensus and get good ideas from all sides. Some Republicans expressed concern over stimulus provisions to be voted on and no doubt approved Wednesday, and offered support for more tax cuts, while others handed the president envelopes containing their ideas. Gibbs said later the president had passed many ideas on to his economic team for analysis.

Obama himself said he knew he would never get 100% Republican support. But some support is good. A little bit more than some is better. And he’s obviously thinking this vote and this week.

According to the Washington Whispers blog, in the closed meetings Obama said he’s not interested in increasing the size of government merely to do that, but wants to accomplish something real for the economy.

He told one Republican he was just as concerned about the long-term effects of tax cuts as the long-term effects of overspending and debt.

According to one participant, the president as a realistic politician said he understands some in the meeting would go out and feel the need to denounce him.

A good-natured Obama was quoted by one GOP member as saying, ‘I understand that and I will watch you on Fox News and feel bad about myself.’


Additionally, as The Ticket reported earlier today, about a dozen moderate Republicans will have dinner with Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel at the White House this evening. To address GOP concerns, the president has already been in touch with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to press for dropping the $200 million for contraceptive promotion as having nothing to do with the economic stimulus package. So it’s gone.

The president, like all his predecessors who tried unsuccessfully to bridge the persistent partisan gap on the Hill, has challenges on both sides. He wants to build trust among Republicans, give them something, while handling fellow Democrats, who with their enlarged Hill majorities are feeling their oats.

While much of the media (which thrive on conflict) today focused on the Republican side and its sometimes belligerent public reactions, perhaps the larger challenge for Obama will turn out to be restraining those Democratic partners from larding up the economic stimulus with gimmes for their hungry constituencies.

Nobody said changing the ways of Washington would be easy.

Or possible.

--Andrew Malcolm

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