Obama's bipartisan meetings more theater than medium to yield results

When President Obama said in his first State of the Union address that he wanted to start monthly meetings at the White House with bipartisan leaders of Congress, he joked: "I know you can't wait."

And while Obama has stuck to his plan, inviting both Democratic and Republican leaders to the White House to discuss his legislative agenda, the meetings have done little to yield bipartisan results.

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Instead, the meetings provide an opportunity for the leadership teams to clarify exactly where they disagree, hardening divisions usually just moments after meeting with Obama or sometimes in statements before the meeting ever happens.

After last week's meeting with Democratic leaders Sen. Harry Reid (Nev.), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Republican leaders Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Rep. John Boehner (Ohio), the lawmakers skipped the stakeout location — the area outside the West Wing where reporters wait to hear what happened in the closed-door meetings — while Obama went to the Rose Garden and blasted GOP obstructionism.

The president used the occasion to criticize Republicans for blocking campaign finance reform, and urged them to stop holding small businesses "hostage by partisan politics."

Those kinds of statements, and campaign-like speeches such as the one Obama gave in Michigan on Friday, have led Republicans to charge that Obama's calls for bipartisanship are hollow public-relations moves.

"There is very little accomplished at these things," said one Republican aide. "They write the readout before we go in. And then they spin some tale about how tough the president was. And then the story goes on A12, if they’re lucky."

But the White House insists that the invitations are sincere, and it is Republicans who come in closed-minded.

One White House official noted that on all the big issues that the president has talked to Republican leaders about — healthcare, financial regulatory reform — Democrats have included GOP ideas.

It is out of the control of the White House, the official said, if Republicans vote against their own ideas to make a political statement.