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Obama’s Aloof Behavior With GOP Could Hurt Agenda

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Several Republican Members have said the administration's outreach has diminished since President Barack Obama began gearing up for his re-election effort.

"It hasn't been like before, when he would call me from Air Force One. ... It's too bad because there are a lot of things that we actually agree on," Brown said.

The Massachusetts Senator, who is the most endangered Republican in next year's elections, got a handshake from the president two weeks ago at a signing ceremony on a veterans' jobs bill that incorporated one of Brown's bills. But the president didn't pull him aside for a chat.

"I spoke to the vice president and told him that we've got to stop playing games. There's a lot of things that we can work on together because our country is yearning for it," Brown said.

Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) said after a press conference during which he blasted the administration's delay of the Keystone XL pipeline that he hasn't gotten a call "since the New START Treaty. But that was last year." Lugar co-authored legislation with Obama before he was president and was seen as a mentor to Obama in the Senate.

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), a former governor and secretary of Agriculture in the George W. Bush administration, said there has been no push inside the Capitol for the jobs bill.

"I just never saw a serious effort by the White House to get this bill done. He'd go out and give a speech, 'Pass this bill now,' or whatever the catchphrase of the day was. But I never saw the White House work this jobs bill. And that's one of the reasons why it doesn't go anywhere," Johanns said.

Johanns said he's received two calls from the president since he's taken office once when he was recovering from surgery and once to thank him for his vote for the New START Treaty. "It's not like I'm waiting for the phone to ring ... [but] I've probably spent 120 seconds talking to him."

Though Johanns has carved a reputation as a solid conservative, he recently joined the Senate's "gang of six" for dinner in an attempt to find a bipartisan solution to the ballooning deficit.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has talked frequently in the past with the White House about immigration reform and climate change bills, said that in the past six months, interaction with the president has been "zero, zero."

"I think they are in full campaign mode," he said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he could recall one good conversation with the president this year when the president and Alexander flew to Memphis aboard Air Force One. The former Education secretary chatted with the president about reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind law.

Even Democrats see Obama's disengagement. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said that times are very different than they were in 1967, when President Lyndon Johnson would regularly meet, call and drink with Republican leaders and Senators. Harkin said that the Republican Party has become a nearly monolithic bloc of conservatives, but he counseled that a personal touch could help the president.

"Personal relationships always are better than keeping a distance," he said. "It's my observation that President Obama, even when he was here and was on my committee and stuff, he's a very intellectual, focused individual. It never seemed to me that he enjoyed the give and the take of the institution here."

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