By Justin Sink - 05/22/14 11:16 PM EDT
Top White House officials have reportedly been holding private meetings with lawmakers this week to boost support for the president’s foreign policy strategy, although the outreach effort appears to have left some lawmakers confused and upset.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) described a meeting with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and national security adviser Susan Rice earlier this week as “one of the most bizarre I've attended on Foreign Relations on foreign policy in our country.”
White House officials said the effort was a bid to address lawmaker concerns over the defense budget, the president’s approach to the civil war in Syria, and when U.S. troops will fully withdraw from Afghanistan, according to The Associated Press.
Lawmakers also discussed efforts to find nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls who have been kidnapped by the Islamist terror group Boko Haram.
On Thursday, the House passed a $521.3 billion version of the defense bill, which rejected calls from the president to retire expensive defense programs, reduce troop raises and benefits and close excess bases, as well as the prison at Guantánamo Bay. The White House has threatened to veto the House bill.
On Wednesday, Obama announced he was dispatching 80 Air Force personnel to Chad to assist in the search for the Nigerian schoolgirls.
According to the wire service, Democratic attendees at the White House meeting included New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Michigan Sen. Carl Levin and Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) listed the gathering on his public schedule, and Yahoo reported that his fellow Montanan, Sen. John Walsh, was also in attendance. Republicans at the meeting included Corker, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and Maine Sen. Susan Collins.
McDonough has also traveled to Capitol Hill in recent days for meetings with the House Democratic Caucus on Tuesday and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
The outreach efforts come ahead of a pair of foreign policy speeches expected next week: the president’s traditional Memorial Day remarks, usually at Arlington National Cemetery, and a graduation speech at West Point on Wednesday.