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President Barack Obama hosted his second meeting with Republican leaders in less than a week Wednesday, a move that comes just days before the House takes up its first major spending battle of the new Congress.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) emerged from a Wednesday lunch with Obama — their first meeting since becoming majority leaders last month — with praises for his willingness to find common ground on issues such as trade, job creation and spending cuts.
“We did have a fairly robust conversation about the need for all of us to work together to send the signal that we’re serious about cutting spending. We had agreement on that,” Cantor said.
“It was a beginning and a start,” McCarthy said. “We look forward to having the president on his word where we can move legislation where we can create new jobs in America.”
The meeting was light on substance and heavy on symbolism. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the leaders didn’t get into any specifics on spending or deficit reduction, both of which will be hotly debated issues next week when Obama sends Congress his budget.
“I don’t think that people looked at this as a negotiating session,” Gibbs said during a briefing.
“When we can sit around a table and talk about what we agree on and what common ground is there, that we can get things done on behalf of the American people,” he said. “I think this was an opportunity to listen to each other and to figure out where that common ground is.”
Obama’s huddle with House GOP leaders comes days after the president met privately with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The Friday meeting wasn’t listed on either of their schedules, and a McConnell aide would say only that the two had “a nice lunch.”
Regardless of whether Obama’s gestures to Republicans translate to agreements on the policy front, GOP leadership aides say the fact that lunches with the president are happening at all is a positive sign.
“This was the first time they’ve actually gotten together like this to talk issues. Both sides had positive feeling and there’s expectation the dialogue will continue,” a senior House Republican aide said.
Another aide said GOP leaders have been “pleased” thus far with the president’s overtures. “We will have to wait and see whether or not this goes beyond the lunch in terms of policy support,” this aide said.