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It’s only been two months since Republicans took control of the House, and Speaker John Boehner is already earning a reputation for telling President Barack Obama, “No.”
The Ohio Republican last week turned down a White House invitation to attend a state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao. A week earlier, Boehner declined an offer from Obama to fly with him on Air Force One to attend the Tucson, Ariz., memorial ceremony. And unlike last year’s House GOP retreat, the president was not asked by Republican leaders to make an appearance at this year’s getaway.
Boehner’s recent penchant for rebuffing Obama began just days after the November elections, when he and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) canceled their first post-election bipartisan meeting with the president because of “scheduling conflicts in organizing their caucuses.” The meeting was later rescheduled.
The scrambling that ensued over that meeting infuriated some Congressional Democrats who said Republicans were sending the wrong signal by canceling on the president, especially at a time when the public is clamoring for bipartisanship on Capitol Hill.
“When the president calls and asks a Member of Congress to meet at the White House, you go,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said at the time. “You put down everything else, you cancel all your other appointments and you go. This is the leader of the free world and the commander in chief of our nation. You do not say, ‘Let’s reschedule.’”
But Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said the Speaker, installed Jan. 5, has never broken any commitments with Obama. Both the November meeting and the Air Force One trip were announced without taking Boehner’s schedule into account, he said.
Members who traveled with the president to Arizona included: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Arizona GOP Reps. Jeff Flake, Trent Franks, Ben Quayle, Paul Gosar and David Schweikert, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Assistant Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
Buck argued that the White House — not Boehner — is to blame for any perceived snub. Obama hasn’t done enough to reach out to the House Republican majority, he said.
“This is another example of poor communication between the White House and us,” he said.
In the case of the missed state dinner, Buck said Boehner “does not typically attend those events,” having been to only one in the past 20 years. McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did not attend either.
As for House Republicans not inviting Obama to their annual retreat this year, Buck said that decision came from Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas), not Boehner.
Pressed on why Boehner did not insist on inviting Obama in a show of bipartisanship, Buck said the onus is on the White House to take the lead in forging a relationship with House Republicans.