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Liberals Feeling Slighted

Progressive Caucus Still Waiting for Obama Meeting

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Liberal House Democrats are stewing that they have yet to get face time with President Barack Obama, despite his whirlwind charm offensive that has ushered every other major faction of the Caucus into the White House for private meetings.

“Members are either taking it as a slight, or that we’re irrelevant in the planning process,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

With 77 members, the liberal bloc is the largest ideological subgroup in a famously fractious Caucus.

But the group’s members have proved to be among the most reliable supporters of mainline Democratic priorities, prompting a view among some party leaders that they require less servicing. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (Calif.), the group’s other co-chairman, warned the White House against drawing that conclusion.

“Maybe they think that they can take us for granted, but they can’t,” she said.

The administration has yet to schedule a get-together with the group, though White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Obama looks forward to meeting with them “soon.”

Obama has already notched sit-downs with the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, the business-friendly New Democrat Coalition, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — sessions that participants hailed as opportunities to outline their priorities face-to-face with the commander in chief and receive some commitments in return. During the CHC meeting, for example, Obama promised to hold an immigration forum, while with the New Democrats, he proclaimed, “I am a New Democrat.”

Obama has made several trips to Capitol Hill — an unusual show of deference to Congress, considering most presidents have been happy to make use of home-field advantage by hosting lawmakers at the White House. He was on the Hill in late January to pitch the economic stimulus package to House Republicans, though they ended up voting en bloc against it. And on Wednesday he returned to sell his budget to Senate Democrats, a performance he plans to repeat for House Democrats on Monday.

“The fact that Obama has spent time courting House Republicans, the most legislatively irrelevant group on the Hill, and still hasn’t met with Progressives, the center core of his party — it’s incredible,” said David Sirota, a liberal columnist and former aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who founded the Progressive Caucus in the early 1990s when he served in the House.

Some liberal lawmakers said they are not offended that the group is still waiting for an audience with Obama, pointing to open lines of communication with top White House staff, most notably Chief of Staff and former Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.).

“I think he will meet with us at some point, but I understand he’s got a lot on his agenda, and it’s not like he’s not listening to what we have to say, because we’re either talking to his staff or we’re sending him letters or we’re giving speeches on the floor,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said. “I think he’s getting the message.”

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