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With August poll ratings for the president and Congress in a tailspin after the messy debt deal and a report of stagnant job creation, GOP leaders are breaking out their olive branches.
Indeed, the rhetoric of the top two House leaders, Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), has softened since the August recess, when many of their Members were confronted at home by constituents fed up with Washington, D.C., and concerned primarily with unemployment.
For example, the GOP leadership’s early reaction to President Barack Obama’s jobs speech outlining a new $447 billion package was skeptical, but far from the usual harsh broadsides many have come to expect.
Cantor appeared to go out of his way to look for common ground with the president after his address to Congress on enacting free trade agreements, on reforming unemployment insurance and even on accelerating infrastructure investments. The leadership team also sent a conciliatory letter to the White House Friday asking the president to submit his bill and promising it would receive consideration from House committees.
“There’s definitely a change in the rhetoric — it remains to be seen whether there’s going to be a change in policy,” said Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio). He attributed the change to Members listening to voters in August.
“A lot of base Republican supporters in my part of the world said, ‘You know, you have to show us something. ... This cut-and-grow thing has a limited shelf life. You actually have to produce something, and if you can work with the president, you should, to get something done because everybody wins,’” LaTourette said. “I think they probably heard the same thing and I think that’s great.”
But the Ohio Republican, who is a close ally of Boehner, said that he’s not sure it will actually lead to a broad deal on a jobs bill or much else.
“We continue to have a group of people in both parties that you can never make happy, and we’ll see how that plays out,” he said.
Rep. Tom Cole also acknowledged the leadership’s less combative stance.
“Our leaders have said, ‘Keep your powder dry. Let’s give him a chance to make his case,’” the Oklahoma Republican said.
Cole said that nobody is happy with how the debt limit crisis ended, and voters are unhappy for various reasons. In his district, Cole said, many Republicans didn’t understand why he compromised at all on the debt ceiling.
But at a larger level, voters “want us to work together,” he said.
To that end, leaders are working hard to avoid the kinds of showdowns that have brought the government to the brink of financial calamity twice in the past year.
Cole, a former chairman of the party’s campaign committee, said that with next year being an “anti-incumbent year and an anti-Washington year,” it behooves Republicans to keep the focus on Obama.