By Alexander Bolton and Tony Romm - 01/28/10 04:54 AM EST
President Barack Obama told Republican leaders Wednesday that he will schedule regular meetings with them to discuss his agenda, a gesture GOP lawmakers said was necessary to move legislation with bipartisan support.
Democratic leaders and their aides said they did not expect Obama to make such a proposal to Republican leaders.
House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) spread his arms in somewhat ironic embrace when television cameras turned to him to capture reaction to Obama’s proposal.
Obama acknowledged that Republicans might view his offer skeptically.
“I know you can’t wait,” Obama quipped.
Senior Democratic aides in the Senate and House say that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) already meet with Obama regularly.
But some Democrats think there could be more coordination between Congress and the White House after the derailment of the healthcare reform bill, what had been Obama’s top domestic priority.
“It’s always good to have more coordination,” said House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.).
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that Obama had tried to reach out to GOP leaders at the beginning of next year but to little avail.
“I know the president started off meeting with the Republican leadership in the House and Senate in hopes of having a more amicable relationship. It hasn’t worked out too well but I’m glad he’s going to continue to try,” Durbin said.
Durbin, who is one of Obama’s closest allies in Congress, said he and the president were frustrated by more than nearly 100 filibusters by the Senate GOP.
Centrist Republican senators who could serve as potential allies to the administration made clear this week that Obama would have to reach out to the GOP leadership before soliciting their support.
“If the Democrats are serious, they ought to focus on McConnell and that will require some substantial negotiations,” said Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.).
Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said Obama made a mistake at the beginning of his term by failing to establish a working relationship with McConnell and Boehner.
“He should sit down with Leader McConnell and Leader Boehner and deal with them, he ought not to be going around talking to George Voinovich alone or the other senators, he should be talking to [the GOP leaders],” Voinovich said.
House Republican leaders welcomed Obama’s proposal to meet monthly.
“I am encouraged by that, that he wants to meet with us, because you know what, this year, there was a lot of discussion about bipartisanship but zero action on his part,” said House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (Va.).
“I am certainly hopeful that we can try to now establish some type of rapport so we can work together on a reform agenda,” he added.
Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), chairman of the House Republican Conference, said, “I think the president of the United States ought to sit down on a regular basis with leaders of both political parties.”
“This business of late, of slamming the door and locking Republicans in the House and Senate completely out of deliberations, this business of the last year of reflexively rejecting all of the Republican proposals on stimulus, on budget, on healthcare, on energy has got to stop,” Pence added.