For Obama and GOP leaders, just meeting is a bipartisan accomplishment
President Obama met with GOP leaders at the White House Tuesday. The gathering appeared long enough for little else but pleasantries – though, in the current climate, that's no small thing.
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Given the atmosphere of partisan rancor infusing Washington, just having the meeting at all was an accomplishment. Obama’s original offer – a meeting, cocktails, dinner in the White House residence on Nov. 18 – didn’t fly with the Republicans. They cited a scheduling conflict. Democrats cried “snub.” Whatever the case, the Tuesday meeting was just an hour, in the morning, in the White House’s Roosevelt Room.Skip to next paragraph
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But it’s a start, both sides agreed, four weeks after the political earthquake of the Nov. 2 midterm elections, when the Republicans swept the Democrats out of power in the House and cut into their Senate majority. During the meeting, Obama accepted some blame for the lack of bipartisan outreach during the last two years, a point the No. 2 House Republican, Eric Cantor of Virginia, welcomed.
Still, despite all the talk of a fresh start, Obama acknowledged the elephant in the room – what he called “the current hyper-partisan climate.”
“There are always those who argue that the best strategy is simply to try to defeat your opposition, instead of working with them,” the president said.
He needed look no further than McConnell to see someone whose stated goal is to make sure Obama does not win a second term. And in a Washington Post opinion piece published Tuesday by McConnell and Boehner, the rhetoric seemed distinctly McConnell-esque.
The column – titled “Where we and Democrats can work together” – called on the White House and Democratic leaders to “prioritize.”
“It's time to choose struggling middle-class families and small businesses over the demands of the liberal base,” the GOP leaders wrote. “It's time to get serious.”
Each side may need the other
In fact, both parties face pressures from their political bases, perhaps the Republicans even more than the Democrats, as the energized tea party movement watches to see what the GOP can deliver with its new power.
William Galston, a veteran of the Clinton White House who saw up close how the president regrouped after the Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994, expected the “polite noises” that came out of Tuesday’s meeting. Public opinion clearly favors bipartisanship and collegiality.
But, as Obama himself noted, there are strong forces at play pushing the parties in opposite directions. Mr. Galston, now a scholar at the Brookings Institution, sees the next Congress unfolding in two phases.
“The first will be quite confrontational; both sides will take their best swings at each other,” Galston says. “Eventually – and I can’t tell you when eventually is, but I wouldn’t expect it to be any later than the end of calendar 2011 – the two sides will recognize that they’re taking substantial political risks by not making a better public effort to come together.”