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White House, GOP Court Bipartisanship

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden met with Congressional leaders today, including Speaker John Boehner (left) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (right), in an ongoing effort “to find common ground on legislative priorities.”

Reid declined to comment on the lunch upon returning to the Senate on Wednesday afternoon. Pelosi’s office also declined to comment — a sign Republicans took as further encouragement that Obama’s outreach was genuine. One Senate GOP aide said Pelosi appeared to have been taken off guard by Obama’s tone in the meeting and “didn’t look happy” with the discussion between the president and Republicans, particularly when it came to energy issues.

The relationship between Obama and the House and Senate has never been particularly strong during his presidency, but it became increasingly strained following the 2010 elections.

With the GOP in charge of the House, Obama found himself squaring off against often hostile, tea-party-inspired Republicans looking to either roll back his legislative and regulatory initiatives or to block enactment of any of his priorities.

Similarly, Republicans have had to contend with a Senate frozen in partisan deadlock and an administration that has appeared more concerned with using them as an election-year foil than in pursuing legislation.

Although Boehner and Obama maintained a good relationship through much of the last year — and made several attempts at cutting compromises on spending and the debt — neither side has so far been able to move away from their partisan positions, and communication almost completely ended in July.

Aside from a handful of brief phone calls to Boehner and McConnell, neither Republican leader has had any substantive contact with Obama since the debt ceiling debate, so the White House’s initial offer to meet with the four leaders last week surprised them and raised hopes for a thaw in the partisanship of the past 14 months. Still, Republican aides warned, it is far too soon to tell whether anything will ultimately come of the luncheon.

One veteran GOP aide speculated that the White House could simply have been “embarrassed they haven’t hosted one of these things in months” and that Obama may be looking to construct an image of attempting to work with Congress as part of his broader “do-nothing Congress” messaging strategy.

Carney was also guarded on whether a new era of bipartisanship — no matter how short-lived it might be — was in the offing, at one point jokingly saying, “Our approach to this is to expect continuity of behavior,” a line he had used in reference to North Korea earlier in his briefing with reporters.

Boehner, for his part, was unwilling to say whether he thought a significant shift in political attitudes was under way.

“We’ll see if there’s another lunch invitation anytime soon,” Boehner said.

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