Bending on immigration is a matter of survival for Republicans, who know their hard-line stance has put them at odds with an increasingly diverse country.
And dinners such as the one at the White House on Wednesday used to be commonplace back when it was expected that the two parties could engage civilly and respectfully, no matter their differences on the issues.
"We are making progress," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, hours before she attended the dinner. "These are really substantive discussions on issues of the day, and we haven't had that in a long time."
Moving forward over the next few weeks on gun control and immigration overhaul does not necessarily establish a new political dynamic in which Obama and the Republicans in Congress can later tackle the bigger challenges of tax and entitlement reform — a "grand bargain" that both sides say is crucial to the country's economic future.
But the flip side does hold true: If they cannot come together on these narrower issues, it is difficult to see how they would trust each other enough to go for broader compromises. That lack of faith is the reason that Washington decision making in recent years has happened only when catastrophe is looming — government shutdowns, the debt-ceiling and a "fiscal cliff," all crises of Washington's own making.
One of the things that appears to be happening is a return to the way that Congress normally used to work, with a broader cross section of its members getting involved in shaping deals — and, therefore, becoming invested in making them work.
Of late, issues do not get hashed out in a conference room in the House speaker's office or at the Senate majority leader's desk. Committee chairmen and rank-and-file senators are in the mix, cutting deals among themselves and outside interest groups, pledging to fight for them throughout the process.