By Justin Sink and Molly K. Hooper - 01/15/13 10:00 AM EST
President Obama claimed on Monday that he’s a “pretty friendly guy” who likes “a good party.”
He has great relationships with Republicans, he said, and enjoys lawmakers’ company.
Now that his daughters are getting older and don’t want to spend as much time with him, he’d “probably be calling around, looking for someone to play cards with me or something, because I’m getting kind of lonely in this big house ... So maybe a whole bunch of members of the House Republican caucus want to come over and socialize more.”
It might be especially important for a president who, at the outset of his second term, promises to win legislative battles on gun control and immigration, plus fix the nation’s finances and entitlement programs.
Neera Tanden, a former aide to both Obama and former President Clinton, complained last year to New York magazine that Obama “doesn’t call anyone” because “he’s not close to almost anyone.”
“It’s stunning that he’s in politics, because he really doesn’t like people,” Tanden said in a remark for which she later apologized.
Former Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), for a time a key swing vote in the Senate, said she would give Obama a “close to failing” grade on his relationship with Congress.
“A president should be reaching out to many on the opposite side of the aisle — you know, to many Republicans, on a bipartisan basis,” Snowe told ABC News.
Republican aides say Obama has shown little sign of changing his stripes in a second term, despite comments he made Monday about how he could probably do a better job.
One aide noted that the only time Obama has played golf with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was the summer of 2011 as the two tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a “grand bargain” on tax and entitlement reform.
Since winning a second term as president, Obama has played golf at Joint Base Andrews four times, but has yet to go with any lawmakers, a gesture aides say would go a long way toward addressing the bitter feelings directed at the White House.
Instead, they say, Obama has surrounded himself with his regular weekend golf partners, administration staffers Eugene Kang, Marvin Nicholson and Joe Paulson.
On Dec. 2, Obama went golfing with Clinton, as well as U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe.
Democrats note Republicans have rejected Obama’s overtures. Boehner has skipped at least six state dinners, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined at least two similar invitations.
McConnell also opted out of a meeting with the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team at the White House so he could attend Kentucky Derby festivities in his home state. And more than half of freshman Republicans elected in 2010 declined their invitation to a reception with the president and first lady Michelle Obama.
Obama on Monday suggested it’s ridiculous to blame him — or a lack of socializing — for the inability of his White House and the Republican House to come together.
The president pointed to polarization, gerrymandering, talk radio and the rise of the Tea Party as issues that make it more difficult for people to work across the aisle.
“They’re worried about their district. They’re worried about what’s going on back home,” he said of Republicans.
“I think there are a lot of Republicans at this point that feel that given how much energy has been devoted in some of the media that’s preferred by Republican constituencies to demonize me, that it doesn’t look real good socializing with me,” he said.
He cited former Florida Gov. Charles Crist, who has now left the Republican Party, as an example. Crist’s fortunes as a Republican never recovered from a hug he gave Obama in early 2009. (Crist also embraced Obama’s economic stimulus bill.)
Obama insisted that he had earned a reputation as a bad socializer because it was advantageous to congressional Republicans to seem at odds with the administration.
“I think a lot of folks say, ‘Well, if we look like we’re being too cooperative or too chummy with the president, that might cause us problems,’ ” Obama said. “ ‘That might be an excuse for us to get a challenge from somebody in a primary.’ ”
There have been some overtures — albeit limited ones — to House Republicans. During a meeting last November to discuss the “fiscal cliff,” Obama presented Boehner with a bottle of Tuscan Sangiovese as a 63rd-birthday gift.
“I like Speaker Boehner personally,” Obama said Monday. “When we went out and played golf we had a great time.”
But he suggested personal relationships, in the end, are neither the problem nor the solution to what ails Washington.
“Whether or not we get sensible laws passed to prevent gun violence, whether or not America is paying its bills, whether or not we get immigration reform done — all that’s going to be determined largely by where the respective parties stand on policy and, maybe most importantly, the attitude of the American people,” he said.