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Obama launches 'charm offensive' on Capitol Hill. Does it have a chance? (+video)

President Obama begins meetings with lawmakers Tuesday to discuss everything from deficits to guns. He is not known for cultivating working relationships on the Hill, and at the same time, GOP congressional leadership has been locked in opposition.

By Staff writer / March 12, 2013

People walk toward the US Capitol on March 4. President Obama is beginning a three-day 'charm offensive,' with back-to-back meetings on Capitol Hill with Senate Democrats (Tuesday), with House Republicans (Wednesday), and, separately, with Senate Republicans and House Democrats (Thursday).

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

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Washington

Just as he did at the start of his first term, President Obama is heading up to Capitol Hill to make a rare, personal appeal to lawmakers, on their own turf, for an ambitious agenda.

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But this time, lawmakers have a four-year record of negotiations with a president not known for cultivating working relationships on Capitol Hill. Conversely, he's encountered a GOP congressional leadership locked in opposition.

This week’s new “charm offensive” is a bid to reach below the leadership level on Capitol Hill and, if possible, change the tone of relations with Congress – or, at least, the perception of a White House that functions mainly in campaign mode.

“The president’s overtures, while they are long overdue, are certainly welcome," says Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine, who has been a key player in many bipartisan deals in the Senate.

In 2009, just a week after his inauguration, Mr. Obama’s main talking point in back-to-back meetings with House and Senate Republicans was an economic recovery plan, which, on the eve of the meetings, House GOP leader John Boehner had urged his caucus to reject.

This week, the menu is more expansive: deficits, immigration, guns, energy, and the pace of judicial confirmations. So is the audience. It’s Senate Democrats on Tuesday, House Republicans on Wednesday, and, separately, Senate Republicans and House Democrats on Thursday.

Last Wednesday, the president invited a dozen GOP senators, none formally in party leadership, for a private dinner at Washington’s Jefferson Hotel. And last Thursday, Obama invited the top House Budget Committee leaders, chairman Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) of Maryland, to lunch at the White House.

Senate Republicans met these overtures, at least publicly, with guarded optimism.

“Dinner and a lunch don’t make agreements, but there is the beginning of things, and this could be the beginning of the kinds of conversation that could lead us to a grand bargain,” says Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, one of the 12 who met with the president.

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