“If we’re all going to work together, you might expect the president and White House to reach out to us, and they have yet to do that in any way this year,” he said. “There has been zero communication from the White House to us, outside of basic issues of scheduling.”
White House officials declined to comment. But Press Secretary Robert Gibbs last week wondered aloud why the Speaker turned down Obama’s invitation to Hu’s state dinner.
“I don’t know what their response was in declining the invitation,” Gibbs said during a briefing. “We hope that because of the importance of the relationship that they would attend.”
Senior House Democratic aides speculated that Boehner is intentionally backing out of meetings with Obama to send a signal that he is going to use his role as Speaker to play hardball with the president. Boehner hasn’t been shy about how he intends to deal with the White House over the next two years: In a Dec. 12 interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Boehner said he is open to finding “common ground” with the president but will not “compromise” with him.
“I reject the word,” he said.
“One snub is an accident; three or four, well, that’s a pattern,” one top House Democratic aide said. “Bipartisanship is a two-way street, but Republicans only see it going one way.”
A House Democratic leadership aide conceded that Boehner has softened his tone somewhat in the weeks since the Tucson shootings but said he still seems to be having “a really difficult time” transitioning from campaign mode to governing.
“The Speaker has to realize he’s no longer the leader of just a party. He’s the head of the House of Representatives, and there are duties you expect the Speaker to be doing,” this aide said, specifically citing the state dinner with Hu. “I can only imagine the outrage on the right if Speaker Pelosi had snubbed a Republican president in this manner. People would be foaming at the mouth.”
Hu and Obama were both asked about Boehner’s absence at the state dinner during a press briefing last week, and both declined to comment.
“Who will attend, who will not attend and for what reasons, I think President Obama is certainly in a better position to answer that question,” Hu said, drawing laughter for leaving it to Obama to field the question, which he did not take.
Not that the president has always kept with his plans to meet with Republicans: During last year’s State of the Union address, he proposed holding monthly bipartisan, bicameral meetings with Capitol Hill leaders. He only ended up holding five.
A senior Senate Republican aide said the fact that Boehner missed the state dinner isn’t as important as the fact that he is visibly making an effort to tamp down partisan rhetoric in his Conference. This aide called on the White House to do more to bring Congressional Republicans to the table.
“It was a major problem in the 111th Congress and a stark departure from the courtesy that leaders of both parties received from previous White Houses,” the GOP aide said. “Here’s to hoping things improve in that regard.”