For all his renewed calls for bipartisanship, President Barack Obama is still wrestling with the same hurdle that has plagued him for two years: He has no relationships with Republicans.
The lack of a rapport between Obama and GOP lawmakers was on full display this week as Republicans pushed back against nearly every overture made by the White House to find common ground in the lame-duck session that began Monday.
After being courted for weeks by administration officials, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) unexpectedly snubbed Obama’s efforts to win his support for moving the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, citing concerns that the lame-duck agenda is too full. Kyl’s slight was followed by GOP leaders telling the White House their schedule was too busy to accommodate Obama’s invitation to meet today to discuss legislative priorities. The meeting was rescheduled for Nov. 30.
Add to the mix that Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a bill aimed at ensuring equal pay for women, a move the president said left him “deeply disappointed” and pointing fingers at “a partisan minority of Senators.”
It’s been a rough week for Obama, whose post-election tone of conciliation appears to have fallen flat on Capitol Hill. But Republicans say all the president has to do is get to know them better if he wants a better working relationship going forward.
“He’s got to figure out how to get people together and develop trustworthy relationships,” Sen. George Voinovich said.
The Ohio Republican predicted that Obama will have “a big problem” in the next Congress if he doesn’t start working on his ties to GOP lawmakers.
“He’s going to have to take a relationship he hasn’t nurtured and he’s going to have to turn the corner,” Voinovich said. “He’s got to repair a relationship that’s not there today.”
Voinovich, who is retiring at the end of the term, said he will “never forget” when he found out that Obama had only met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) once after he was well into his presidency. Voinovich also wondered aloud what happened to Obama’s vow during the State of the Union to meet with Hill leaders once a month.
Senior House and Senate GOP aides said they could not think of a single Republican lawmaker with a relationship with Obama, although one name floated was Rep. Peter Roskam (Ill.), who served in the Illinois state Legislature with Obama for four years.
Even though Roskam and Obama worked together on a committee and passed controversial bills together, the Illinois Republican lamented that the president has not reached out to him in Washington.
“I have not had much substantive discussion with the president in the past two years,” Roskam said. “He would be well-counseled to go back to the more intuitive self that he demonstrated in the state Senate.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.