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Despite Bumps, Outreach to Continue

President Barack Obama drove to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for meetings with House and Senate Republicans, but his bipartisan outreach appeared to hit a speed bump. Still, the reason may have more to do with philosophical differences than partisan politics or “the old ways of Washington.”

Republican sources insisted that while GOP Members genuinely appreciated Obama’s gesture in meeting with them in the Capitol, they are unable to back stimulus legislation they consider too expensive, no matter how nice the president is.

“It’s like asking a lion to be a vegetarian,” one senior Republican aide said. “This party and this group of people are highly skeptical of massive, massive government programs and spending.”

Despite the policy spat, both sides said the courtship would continue.

Republicans said during the meeting with Obama that their door would continue to be open and that they hoped the president would come back. White House officials said they were gratified by the GOP’s appreciation and that Obama will be back.

But there were also signs of irritation. In remarks after the House meeting — a similar session was held with GOP Senators — Obama said Republicans “may just not be as familiar with what’s in the package as I would like” and that while he doesn’t expect every Republican to support it, “I do hope that we can all put politics aside and do the American people’s business right now.”

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in his daily briefing twice noted that Republican leaders had urged their Conference to oppose the measure even before Obama arrived on Capitol Hill.

One top GOP aide said the House leadership’s hand was forced because the rule for debating the stimulus bill on the House floor was going to be voted during the day. “It might have been a little better if the meeting was last week,” he said.

Republicans said that despite whiffing on moving Republicans toward the bill, Obama’s appearance generated significant goodwill. House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) ended the session by thanking Obama for his outreach, one source in the room said.

And Members expressed their appreciation afterward.

“The president was enormously charming, really built a good rapport with Members, and I think would do well to show up quite often,” said Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), a co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group. “Unfortunately, I don’t think he swung a single vote in the room.”

Kirk said he hoped that Obama didn’t come away from the meeting giving up on reaching out to Republicans. “That would be a mistake because a number of Members dramatically improved their impression and opinion of him across the board, even though they are probably going to vote against [the bill] tomorrow.”

But Democrats were skeptical and warned that the GOP would cross the hugely popular Obama at their own peril.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, had predicted that all of the overtures to Republicans wouldn’t amount to much.

“I see this as a learning experience for our president, and a lot of us aren’t surprised at all,” Woolsey said. “I’d feel duped if I didn’t expect it.”

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