President Obama lamented his loneliness in the White House on Monday and said he would have more friends in Washington if Republican lawmakers weren’t so afraid of blowback from conservative media.
At the final news conference of his first term, Mr. Obama was asked why he doesn’t socialize more often. The president protested in reply, “I’m a pretty friendly guy. I like a good party.”
But he said some Republicans can’t afford to be seen socializing with him. He cited the example of former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, the Republican turned independent who drew criticism after he endorsed Mr. Obama for re-election. Mr. Crist has since become a Democrat.
“I think there are a lot of Republicans at this point that feel that, given how much energy has been devoted in some of the media that’s preferred by Republican constituencies to demonize me, that it doesn’t look real good socializing with me,” Mr. Obama said. “A lot of folks say, ‘Well, you know, if we look like we’re being too cooperative or too chummy with the president, that might cause us problems. That might be an excuse for us to get a challenge from somebody in a primary.’ So that tends to be the challenge.”
The president said that on the occasions when he does socialize with Republicans, he doesn’t seem to be winning them over to his side on policy debates. He cited as an example playing a round of golf with House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, during the debt-reduction negotiations in the summer of 2011.
“I like Speaker Boehner personally,” Mr. Obama said. “When we went out and played golf, we had a great time, but that didn’t get a deal done in 2011. You know, when I’m over here at the congressional picnic and folks are coming up and taking pictures with their family, I promise you, Michelle and I are very nice to them, and we have a wonderful time, but it doesn’t prevent them from going onto the floor of the House and, you know, blasting me for being a big-spending socialist.”
He said the paralysis in Washington involves the failure of politicians to improve “personal relationships.”
“I promise you, we invite folks from Congress over here [to the White House] all the time,” Mr. Obama said. “And when they choose to come, I enjoy their company. Sometimes, they don’t choose to come, and that has to do with the fact that I think they don’t consider the optics useful for them, politically.”
Mr. Obama joked that he is getting “kind of lonely in this big house” because his daughters are getting older and “they don’t want to spend that much time with me anyway.”
“So I’ll be probably calling around, looking for somebody to play cards with or something,” he said.
Mr. Obama also defended himself against accusations that his second-term Cabinet lacks diversity. He said he intends to appoint more women and minorities to top government jobs because it leads to “better decision-making.”
“Until you’ve seen what my overall team looks like, it’s premature to assume that somehow we’re going backwards,” the president said.
Several women in high-ranking positions are leaving Mr. Obama’s team, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis, and Deputy Chief of Staff Nancy-Ann DeParle. To date, Mr. Obama has made three Cabinet appointments, all white men: Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, to be secretary of state, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew to replace Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, and former Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, for defense secretary. The president also nominated National Security Adviser John O. Brennan as director of the CIA.
Some of the president’s liberal supporters have criticized his choices. Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, called the lack of diversity “embarrassing as hell.”