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On Wednesday, Graham wouldn’t take credit directly, but the South Carolina lawmaker acknowledged that he and McCain talked to the president about his Hill outreach when they went to the White House last week to meet with Obama.
“I think the president and I had a discussion with Sen. McCain. We talked about how we could engage Congress and the president,” Graham said. “I’ve never known of a big deal or a small deal accomplished without people talking to each other. So start with the proposition that silence and distance doesn’t lead to results and you start moving toward talking to each other.”
Graham added, “This is an effort by the president to talk to people who he would like to talk [to] that he normally doesn’t talk to. I think he talks to the leadership guys a lot. This is not about replacing anybody. It’s about trying to get a dialogue going between elected officials in the executive and legislative branches.”
Graham noted that President Ronald Reagan was aggressive at reaching out to the Hill.
“It wasn’t news. Its sad that it’s news now. That’s what’s wrong. If you’d written a story that Ronald Reagan talks to Democrats and Republicans you wouldn’t get your editors to print it. Its news today unfortunately, and that’s what we are trying to stop. It should not be news that people talk to each other,” he said.
Graham said that during the president’s first term, he was a “distant figure. ... His presidency would be best served by talking to people and I think we are starting that process.”
Not everyone was as enthusiastic about the president’s overtures or the prospects of the dinner changing the conversation on the issues at hand.
“That’s not my interest. My interest is doing the hard work to get something done,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, adding that he had not officially been invited to the dinner.
Portman spoke on the phone with Obama over the weekend, but would not further characterize that conversation.
The White House announced Wednesday morning that the president would have dinner with a handful of Republicans at the Jefferson Hotel, weather permitting. (There is a storm blanketing the D.C. region with snow.)
The president in recent days has also called a handful of rank-and-file Republicans as he seeks to build a “caucus of common sense” on budget issues, and he plans to meet with House and Senate GOP members next week in the Capitol.