He may not always get his way, but more often than not, President Barack Obama seems to have the Midas touch when it comes to persuading Members of Congress to get on board with his agenda.
According to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), proof of the effectiveness of Obamas face-to-face lobbying can be summed up in two words: Dennis Kucinich.
The outspoken Ohio liberal has been a loyal critic of Obamas policies and had been vowing to oppose health care reform over its lack of a single-payer system. But Kucinich announced last week that he would switch from a no to a yes on Obamas proposal, a decision that came after heavy pressure from the White House, including four personal meetings with the president. Last Monday, Obama lobbied him on Air Force One on a joint trip to Ohio and twice called him out in a speech there. Two days later, Kucinich endorsed the overhaul.
Kucinich said his talks with Obama werent the only reason that he decided to switch his vote. But he underscored the effectiveness of Obama engaging with Members on a more congenial level, whether it be through one-on-one meetings or at his many White House receptions, as a way to get business done.
Its actually pretty smart politics, the Ohio Democrat who twice ran for president said. The social dimension of Washington is a place where many decisions are made.
Indeed, the White House hosted several events in the past month that have proved fertile territory for Member lobbying. Last week, Obama invited a number of fence-sitting Democrats on health care to attend a signing ceremony for jobs legislation and the next day to a St. Patricks Day reception. Among them, Reps. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) and Scott Murphy (D-N.Y.). All three were also invited to a reception earlier this month to celebrate Congress reinstating its budget-neutral pay-as-you-go rules.
These are political events; people talk politics, said Cardoza, a fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrat, adding that Obama has asked to meet with him privately on several occasions on different issues. My discussions with Obama arent about me getting pushed. Its about having a conversation. You take these opportunities when you can.
White House officials acknowledge that Obama has used social functions to personally reach out to lawmakers who have been waffling on health care and other issues important to the president.
Obviously ... he had talked to Members who had visited for, like, a PAYGO reception or things like that. He has made individual calls now and I anticipate hell continue to do that, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said during a briefing last week. Gibbs said Friday that the president had held 64 meetings or phone calls with Members on health care reform in the past four days.
Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), also a Blue Dog and someone who wavered on his health care vote, said he was delighted to be invited to Obamas PAYGO reception. Hes the most powerful man in the world. Its always impressive to get a chance to go be with that person, he said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.