By Molly K. Hooper - 07/09/11 11:00 AM EDT
The relationship between Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Obama is building as they head into a critical meeting aimed at ending the impasse over raising the nation's debt limit.
Since their high-profile golf outing last month, Boehner and Obama have held two private meetings to discuss a debt-limit remedy. Details of the meetings weren't leaked to the media, and the White House has even refused to confirm they occurred.
“They are getting to know each other better, they’re talking more often,” the official told The Hill.
The Father’s Day weekend golf outing offered them a chance to work together – they teamed up and defeated Vice President Joe Biden and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) – and discussed non-political issues.
“On the golf course they talked about a lot of other things, other than the debt ceiling,” such as their daughters, the source revealed.
Boehner has already persevered through raising preteen and teenage daughters, while Obama’s in the midst of it.
Most everyone is familiar with the sunny faces of the Obama girls, Sasha and Malia but less so with Boehner’s two daughters, Lindsay and Tricia – who are in their early 30s and late 20s, respectively.
Boehner recently walked Tricia down the aisle.
In addition to their penchant for smoking cigarettes (a habit that Obama reportedly gave up), the president and the Speaker share a similar bond: a deep connection to the late-Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.)
Boehner came to know Kennedy when they both served as top-ranking members of their respective chamber’s education committees in 2001. Then-President George W. Bush tasked the House and Senate chairmen and ranking members with producing the No Child Left Behind law. It was then that Boehner earned his stripes as a good-faith bipartisan negotiator.
Kennedy was an early backer of Obama’s candidacy for president in 2008, and gave the first family their beloved Portuguese Water Dog, Bo.
For the second time this year, Obama and Boehner find themselves at the center of seemingly irreconcilable philosophical battle, if left unresolved could have major ramifications on the global economy.
According to lawmakers in both parties, the only people really who know what’s going on with the debt ceiling talks are Boehner and Obama.
And GOP rank-and-file lawmakers who attended a closed-door briefing with leaders this week told The Hill that Boehner spoke as if the negotiations taking place with Obama were, in fact, “serious” and “genuine.”
A lawmaker who requested anonymity, observing the dynamics between the president and Boehner, said the successful negotiations in April that led to a deal to avert government shutdown, provided a foundation for the talks over the debt ceiling.
“Sometimes when you enter in to negotiations with people that you don’t agree with, there’s a certain respect that’s gained during the negotiations process – you get to know the person a little better. It’s sort of like in junior high when you get into a fight with your mortal enemy, after the fight you become best friends,” the lawmaker said.
But the perception that the Democratic and GOP head of their respective parties are somehow friends, is not a message accepted by members of their bases.
“There’s an expectation from his base and our base that they be mortal enemies and they don’t work together,” a centrist GOP legislator told The Hill, adding that Boehner took some “grief” for agreeing to the golf outing.
Democrats, meanwhile, have been growing more frustrated with the president for not consulting them more.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a respected member who rarely speaks out against the White House, warned the administration this week that it should not take Democratic votes for granted.
In an interview with The New York Times, Whitehouse said called it "a risky thing for the White House to basically take the bet that we can be presented with something at the last minute and we will go for it."
Some Democrats are very worried that Obama will blink in his negotiations with the GOP. Some of them contend that Boehner got the best of Obama in the negotiations on tax cuts late last year and the fiscal 2011 budget showdown.
The Boehner-Obama relationship hasn’t been perfect, according to an official familiar with the situation.
“It’s been hot and cold. Cold, certainly on the Libya situation – there was no effort to reach out to congressional leaders. He called a few hours before it started and that’s how he reached out to Congress. There’s been no relationship on Libya,” a House member said.
An irritated Boehner told reporters last month that notifying Congress of plans on Libya would mean “picking up the telephone” – a clear indication that the president doesn't call very often.
Obama and Boehner can commiserate over their political bases, which are wary of what will emerge from the negotiations. It is nearly certain that factions of the left and the right will lambaste a bipartisan accord.
A Boehner confidant said, “We’ll see how this process ends, but it’s a building relationship.”