Obama, female senators focus on economy, budget

President Obama hosted the 20 female U.S. senators for halibut, peach pie and a two-hour discussion of the economy and the federal budget Tuesday at the White House.

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"The president enjoyed continuing his discussion with the senators about a wide range of items on the agenda, including working together to find common ground on budget issues and new initiatives to grow our economy, create jobs and strengthen the middle class," a White House official said.

Topics of conversation also included the bipartisan immigration bill under review in the Senate, last week's failed gun control vote and expanding education programs.

"He also mentioned cybersecurity — how he's very focused on that and concerned about some of the latest break-ins and talked some about energy. So it was a really good, broad discussion," Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said of the discussion in a Wednesday interview on CBS.

Klobuchar said Obama talked about his desire to see a bipartisan budget deal.

"The first thing he wants to see is a bipartisan budget agreement that would bring the spending down without having this hammer of the cuts; still have cuts, but do it in a smarter way."

The senators and Obama also discussed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) furloughs that have been blamed for delays at airports around the country. 

"We had a lengthy discussion about the FAA, and he has worked with Secretary [Ray] LaHood, the head of the Transportation Department, really to do everything to try to squeeze that budget given the constraints of sequestration," Klobuchar said.

Tuesday's meeting was the latest in a series of gatherings held by the informal female caucus. The event was originally organized by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who suggested to President Obama that one of their dinners should be held at the White House.

“When I saw President Obama a few weeks ago, I told him about our quarterly dinners and, I said ‘Mr. President, if you want to see bipartisanship in Washington, invite the women senators to help you get it done.’ And he loved the idea and he plans to invite us to the White House,” Gillibrand told ABC News in January.

After the dinner, Gillibrand said there was "a great discussion" over the meal in a post to Twitter.

The dinners are usually hosted at the senators' homes, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was scheduled to originally host Tuesday's meeting. According to The Washington Post, the Alaska lawmaker had already ordered halibut from her home state and offered to have the fish delivered to the White House.

That entree was served along with peach pie, according to a White House official.

Klobuchar said background checks on gun purchases also came up. The Senate last week rejected legislation to tighten background checks, seemingly dooming the issue of gun control for the year.

But Klobuchar on Wednesday insisted gun control proponents would move forward.

"It is a beginning not an end on the background check issue, and the president acknowledged that," Klobuchar said.

The dinners are traditionally off-the-record, and none of the female senators spoke with press upon entering or exiting the White House.

The 20 female senators represent a high-water mark in the upper chamber, besting the record of 17 females in the previous Congress.

Tuesday night's meeting is the latest in a series of outreach efforts by President Obama in recent months, as the White House seeks to improve relations with Capitol Hill. Last week, Obama and a dozen Senate Democrats dined together at the Jefferson Hotel, four blocks from the White House. The president has hosted a pair of similar meetings — one at the hotel, the other at the White House — for Republican lawmakers.

The White House said the Boston terrorist attack was also raised at the meeting.

"The president also reiterated his commitment to ensuring all resources remain available as a part of the ongoing investigation into the explosions in Boston last week and commended law enforcement efforts," the White House official said.

This story was posted at 9:52 p.m. and updated at 9:44 a.m. on April 24.