WASHINGTON — Two weeks after launching a high-profile charm offensive targeting Capitol Hill, President Barack Obama and his aides have taken their effort behind the scenes — quietly pushing for cooperation between the White House and congressional Republicans on key disputes.
Before departing for Israel last Tuesday, for example, Obama called Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to discuss immigration reform and other issues. The White House legislative affairs office reached out to Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., last week after he spoke of being ignored. And Obama counselor Pete Rouse worked with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on resolving the impasse over Sally Jewell's nomination to be secretary of the interior.
Lawmakers and aides say the effort has begun to yield modest dividends. Last week, Congress managed to pass a continuing resolution averting another potential government shutdown.
"It's sort of like the two sides are looking across the table and thinking, 'We really are going to have to live in this house for the next four years. Let's divide up who does the dishes: I'll take Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday,' " said Cole, who has broken ranks with his party on occasion. "I sort of see the CR as a confidence builder."
But diplomacy still has its limits. On Friday, the White House formally withdrew the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to join the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit after Republicans had blocked her appointment for years.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., had lunch with both Obama and his panel's ranking member, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., on March 7. But last week, Ryan's aides had no contact with White House officials as they pushed through their conservative budget plan.