President Obama continued his goodwill tour this week with stops at the Capitol to meet with House and Senate Republicans.
But despite the happy talk from Republicans—House Speaker John Boehner called Wednesday’s meeting “productive” and “a good start”—the president’s outreach to the GOP isn’t changing the party leadership’s strategy.
“He’s using us as props,” said one senior House GOP leadership aide. “I don’t expect anything to come out of this.”
There’s never been much trust between congressional Republicans and Obama, and after a White House official called the recent round of outreach “a joke,” there’s even less. Perhaps most telling, Senate and House Republican leadership aides say that there has been no outreach from the president’s aides.
“They think the lunch is a joke? The only thing that’s a joke is how they’ve approached Congress for the last four years,” said a senior Senate GOP aide.
Republicans intend to hold fast to their strategy of using the debt-limit increase this summer to force the president to cut entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. “Until he’s ready to have that conversation, we’re going to stay where we are,” the House aide said.
Wednesday’s meeting was the fourth time that Obama has met with House Republicans as a group, and Thursday’s lunch will be the second time the president has met with Senate Republicans since he was elected, GOP aides said.
“He’s coming over for a lunch. It’s a significant change. Does that filter down to his staff? We’ll see,” one Senate aide said. “The question will be, are they taking notes or snickering in the back?”
Indeed, many Republicans view Obama’s outreach primarily as a defensive media strategy designed to brandish his bipartisan bona fides after his failed campaign to undo across-the-board spending cuts preceded sinking approval numbers. One senior GOP aide said the meetings were “something they needed to do to cover their asses.”
The only conversations that worry Republicans in leadership, particularly those in the House, are the ones the president is having with moderate Senate Republicans.
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