After tension of tax rift, president to meet with House Democrats at retreat

CAMBRIDGE, Md. — House Democrats are projecting a sense of unity with the White House, but President Obama’s appearance here Friday at their annual retreat will be his first collective meeting with the caucus since lawmakers roundly rebuked his tax-cut deal last month.

The public tensions have cooled considerably, helped by a productive lame-duck session and gratitude Democrats have expressed for Obama’s response to the shooting of their colleague, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

ADVERTISEMENT
Yet a more interactive format for the president’s visit, in which he will greet members personally rather than deliver a formal speech, will give lawmakers an opportunity to give Obama their two cents about the direction of his administration.

“What we want to hear and what we expect is candor, and we’re going to hear about jobs and the domestic agenda for the president,” said Rep. John Larson (Conn.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus.

Larson and other Democratic leaders downplayed any lingering hostility from the tax-cut deal. “He’s our leader. He’s the leader of the free world, and we are entirely behind and supportive of the president of the United States,” Larson said.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), the caucus vice chairman, said Democrats might have occasional disagreements with the president, but “we’re not going to eat our own.”

“As diverse as we are in our thoughts and in our backgrounds, at the end of the day, we’re interested in moving this country forward, and we know that we elected Barack Obama to be our leader,” Becerra said. “And so we are hoping that he’ll make the best decisions, cast the best judgments that will do exactly that.

"But we’re not going to eat our own, and we know that he is trying to lead, and we respect that and want to honor that,” he said.

Obama’s appearance will be closed to the public and the press, giving an added opportunity for blunt talk. His talk will be followed by a performance by the University of Virginia Hullabahoos, an a capella group.