Carney: Obama heartened by talks with congressional GOP

President Obama is encouraged by his recent conversations with congressional Republicans and believes that negotiations have a better chance to succeed without the looming deadline of the sequester, the White House said Thursday.

Obama met with a dozen Republican senators at The Jefferson Hotel for dinner Wednesday night, and afterward, GOP lawmakers said they were cautiously optimistic that progress toward an eventual deal had been made.

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"I spoke with the president about this a little while ago and he said he found the dinner very constructive and very pleasant. He said that there seemed to be sincere interest in avoiding constant crisis, sincere interest expressed by the participants in the dinner," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday.

Carney would not provide details of discussions that occurred at the dinner but said that Obama was optimistic he could build on recent bipartisan progress on immigration reform and gun control.

"We don't have to agree on everything, we don't have to resolve all of our differences in order to move forward on finding solutions to the challenges that we face," Carney said.

As Carney was addressing reporters, Obama was meeting at the White House with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). Carney went out of his way to praise Ryan, who ran against Obama as Mitt Romney's vice presidential candidate, saying the president saw him as a "thought leader in the Republican Party."

Next week, Obama will travel to Capitol Hill to meet with both House and Senate Republican conferences. Carney said those meetings would include discussions of the entirety of the president's legislative agenda.

"Part of the effort here is to foster an environment where these conversations can be held in a way that allows for a free exchange of ideas … and focused on the substance, and not just on fiscal issues, as I said, but immigration reform, gun violence, energy independence, education, you know, the whole range of issues that are the president's priorities, and they also happen to be the American people's priorities," Carney said.

Congressional Republicans said Thursday they were more optimistic about the possibility of striking a comprehensive deficit deal following the president's efforts.

On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the effort to speak directly with rank-and-file members a "hopeful sign" while cautioning that Republicans were not likely to move off their insistence that no additional taxes be raised.

“I think it’s a sign, a hopeful sign, and I’m hopeful that something will come out of it,” Boehner said. “But, if the president continues to insist on tax hikes, I don’t think we’re going to get very far. If the president doesn’t believe that we have a spending problem, I don’t know if we’re going to get very far. But I’m optimistic.”

The White House has described the effort as an attempt to mobilize a "common-sense caucus" to address the nation's budget. But the outreach efforts also address complaints that the president has remained distant during his first term, often negotiating deals only with congressional leadership and exerting pressure through public events.

“You know, we went through months of campaign-style events all over the country, and I did have a conversation with the president about it last Friday,” Boehner said Thursday. “It was really kind of interesting that this week we’ve gone 180 [degrees]. After being in office now for four years, he’s going to actually sit down and talk to members.”

—Russell Berman contributed to this report.