The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


March 24, 2013

White House's outreach to GOP pays modest dividends



By contrast, Obama called Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to thank her for her work on the Senate Democrats' budget blueprint.

"This is not a week where they are going to pick up the phone and call House Republicans," Van Hollen said, referring to White House officials.

"After a week of constructive meetings, the president and his senior team have continued conversations with members," White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage wrote in an e-mail, adding: "That outreach will continue."

Van Hollen said that one of the inherent challenges is that House GOP leaders are willing to engage with Obama only in a public context — such as during a budget conference — for fear of alienating their rank-and-file members.

Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., for example, said he hesitated for a moment when the White House called him Feb. 25 as he was sitting at Piccadilly Cafe in Norfolk, Va. to ask whether he wanted to travel to Hampton Roads, Va. with the president aboard Air Force One.

"I had to do two hours of thinking in about four of five seconds," Rigell said, knowing he would come under attack from conservatives for having a private talk with the president. "I just went, 'Oh my, here we go.' But it was a good conversation, I'm glad we had it."

Rigell, who said he told Obama it was urgent to cut federal spending, said the discussion did not transform his relationship with the White House.

"I'd love to say we're text messaging back and forth. That is not happening," he said, adding he hasn't heard from the administration since. "I do feel if I needed to reach out, I could do that."

Sen. Ronald Johnson, R-Wis., who had dinner with the president and 11 other Republicans at the Jefferson Hotel on March 6, said Obama made a point of telling the group that Americans don't realize they get $3 back for every dollar they pay into the federal entitlement system. But the president needs to do more than acknowledge it privately, Johnson said: "He needs to start honestly telling the American people how serious the problem is."

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