By Russell Berman - 02/29/12 09:57 PM EST
For one day, at least, the two top Republicans in Congress tried to mute their criticism of President Obama.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) briefed reporters on an hour-long meeting at the White House on Wednesday, and both men stuck to an upbeat message about the prospects for bipartisan results.
The tone was a departure for Boehner, who has been a harsh critic of the president in recent months. The Speaker has argued that Obama has been “in campaign mode” since Labor Day and has completely disengaged from the legislative process.
When a reporter asked him if the president was in “campaign mode” on Wednesday, however, Boehner demurred, repeating that the leaders had “a very positive” meeting.
McConnell said he “shared the Speaker’s view that the lunch was positive.”
Congressional Republicans have taken a public beating in recent months over their handling of the payroll tax cut extension, and they have seen Obama’s approval ratings rise while theirs have held to near-record lows.
So when Obama invited them to the White House for the first bipartisan leadership meeting in months, they used the opportunity to emphasize areas of agreement rather than the well-known ideological differences that have defined the 112th Congress.
As for concrete commitments from the president, Boehner pointed to Obama’s support for the House GOP’s “JOBS Act,” a package of small-business bills unveiled Tuesday that has drawn bipartisan support. House Democrats have mocked that proposal as merely a repackaging of non-controversial legislation that has already passed the House.
The Speaker also said Obama's comments on supporting an “all-of-the-above” energy policy were “welcome.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also attended the lunch meeting, although they have not publicly commented on it.
Still, there was a limit to the bipartisan harmony at the White House.
Boehner said he brought up the Keystone oil pipeline, which has only received limited approval from Obama, but was rebuffed by the president.
“I did press the president on the Keystone pipeline. The president said, ‘Well, you’re going to get part of it,’ ” the Speaker recalled. “I just wish we were getting the part that was actually going to deliver the oil from Canada and from North Dakota.”
The administration announced this week it would approve a section of the pipeline between Oklahoma and Texas, but McConnell said “the part of the Keystone pipeline we’re getting, the president had nothing to do with.”
“We wish he’ll reconsider,” McConnell added.