President Barack Obama picked up the tab for a March 6 dinner with 12 Republican senators, winning himself some very cheap publicity for his new legislative strategy of outreach to swing-voting GOP lawmakers.

Senators leaving the event were complimentary about Obama’s statements and responses to their views, despite the deep ideological differences over spending, guns, families and immigration.

The invited Senators were picked by Obama and by Sen. Lindsey Graham, the high-profile Republican senator from South Carolina.

“I’m assuming the president wants to talk seriously about the issues of the day,” Graham told reporters prior to the dinner. “I’m encouraged by the president’s outreach [and] I hope it bears fruit,” he said, after telling reporters that the president had called him and Sen. John McCain “a few weeks ago.”

White House officials tell reporters they hope to make progress in Congress by splitting a few swing-voting GOP Senators away from the GOP Senate caucus, which is led by Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell.

A top goal for the president is to replace half of the automatic 10-year, $1.2 trillion spending cuts known as sequestration with a plan that would include tax increases. Obama also wants to pass immigration reform, which is being pushed by Graham and McCain.