When the president announced in the middle of the meeting that white smoke had been seen at the Vatican — signifying a new pope — Rep. Billy Long of Missouri seized the occasion. “Billy just blurted out, as Billy does, ‘Does that mean we’ll have tours at the White House?’ and it broke the place up and even the president laughed at that,” Nebraska’s Lee Terry said. Obama reportedly replied that tours of the Vatican were still available.
Other lawmakers said they were suspicious of Obama’s having their best interests at heart on immigration changes, noting that he has a goal of a Democratic takeover of the House.
“I think it would be an extremely foolish thing for Republicans to put 8 million new Democrats on a path to voting,” Steve King of Iowa said.
Other members said that the president — and his staff — have had so little contact with the rank and file that it will take more than one appearance at the Capitol to overcome four years of distrust. Terry said he’s still never spoken to the president, couldn’t name anyone on the White House’s legislative staff and sometimes doesn’t get his letters answered.
Joe L. Barton of Texas said that the president was long on grand vision and often falls short in sending specific legislative proposals to Congress.
“He is not into that,” Barton said.
Mike D. Rogers of Alabama reported that the president diplomatically said “no” to a balanced budget, explaining that eliminating the deficit is not his priority. Instead, the president said he is worried that the deep spending cuts required to balance the budget would slow the nation’s economic recovery.
The final questioner, Georgia’s Tom Price, engaged in an exchange with Obama about whether Republicans can trust Obama, alluding to a recent National Journal story that quoted an anonymous White House official calling Obama’s outreach to Republicans a “joke.”
Price also pressed Obama on when he would be issuing his budget, which is expected two months late around April 8. Price said he thought Obama was holding his budget up to launch political attacks on Congress’ plans. And he noted that the law required the president to go first.