“He’s unflappable. He’s modest. He listens. And he’s utterly without ego in any of this stuff. And those qualities maybe are more important in a job like his than this considerable intellect, his knowledge of the legislative process,” said Maher, who worked for Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) for 12 years before heading to the White House in 2009.
But all that enthusiasm is running into skepticism from Republicans on the Hill, who said it will take more than a meeting or two with White House officials to demonstrate a willingness to work together.
An aide to a Republican Senator whom Obama has personally reached out to on several occasions said that while Schiliro’s team has talked with the Senator’s office on occasion, it “hasn’t mattered much” since their discussions never went very far.
“Thus far, their outreach has been pretty pathetic, to be perfectly honest,” the GOP aide said. “Even if there are conversations, at the end of the day, where have they manifested themselves in any concrete way with Republicans? I can’t think of any.”
One of the president’s most glaring weaknesses is his relationship with the pair leading his Congressional opposition, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). As one senior Senate Democratic aide put it recently, Obama does not know “who the hell John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are.”
And GOP lawmakers poised to become committee chairmen if Republicans take control said they also need the White House to make more of an effort if Obama expects to take on pressing issues, such as deficit reduction.
“They don’t talk to us at all,” Budget ranking member Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said last month.
Obama’s Hill team may have its work cut out for it: Republicans could win enough seats tonight to take control of the House, and possibly the Senate. But GOP aides said it will ultimately be up to Obama to set the tone for how legislative efforts proceed.
“This goes well beyond the Legislative Affairs team; it’s going to have to come from on high,” a senior Senate GOP aide said. “If they’re to be taken seriously, Obama’s going to have to stop demagoguing Republicans at every single turn and reach out an olive branch in a sincere and genuine way.”
Obama seems to be heeding that call already, using his Saturday weekly radio address to appeal for more cooperation across the aisle. At the same time, he also used the address to scold Boehner and McConnell for making comments recently about not wanting to compromise with Democrats.
“It’s the fundamental responsibility of all who hold elective office to seek out common ground,” the president said, which is “why I found the recent comments by the top two Republican in Congress so troubling. The Republican leader of the House actually said that ‘this is not the time for compromise.’ And the Republican leader of the Senate said his main goal after this election is simply to win the next one.”