- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2013

President Obama hit both ends of the political spectrum Wednesday, spending the afternoon talking up areas of common ground with Republicans and the evening chatting up donors at a partisan fundraiser.

The meeting with Republicans on Capitol Hill was the latest volley in the president’s “charm offensive,” an effort to reach out to some of his harshest critics that began last week when he met with a group of Senate Republicans at the Jefferson Hotel. He plans to meet with a larger group of Senate Republicans on Thursday afternoon.

Emerging from the 90-minute gathering Wednesday, Mr. Obama was terse but positive. He said the spirited exchange he had with Republicans was “useful.”

“It was good. I enjoyed it,” Mr. Obama told reporters as he left the House conference room in the U.S. Capitol.

Mr. Obama’s rare visit to Republicans on their own turf allowed rank-and-file members to pepper the president about a variety of concerns — whether he truly wants to reduce the deficit, whether he is willing to change entitlement programs to do so, and whether his outreach to Republicans is sincere.

Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, called the meeting, the first of its kind in roughly two years, a “good start” in an effort to find common ground on the budget and other matters.

Mr. Obama previously chose to negotiate directly with Mr. Boehner in attempts to reach a grand bargain to reduce the deficit. Those talks failed, and rank-and-file Republicans groused about being completely excluded.

“I thought that we had a very frank and candid exchange of ideas, and frankly, I think it was productive,” Mr. Boehner said afterward.

Republicans even tossed the president a friendly joke for closing the White House to tours because of budget cuts from the so-called sequester cuts. At the beginning of the get-together, when Mr. Obama announced that a new pope had been selected, one Republican shouted, “Does that mean you’re opening the White House to tours again?”

But Republicans also questioned the sincerity of the president’s focus on commonality and compromise, doubting that the meeting would do anything to break through the two sides’ budget differences.

“He’s using us as props,” one senior House GOP leadership aide told the National Journal. “I don’t expect anything to come out of this.”

Earlier in the week, a White House aide anonymously complained that the outreach was wasting the president’s time and called the effort “a joke.” White House spokesman Jay Carney immediately disavowed the quote, saying that it does not reflect Mr. Obama’s thoughts or feelings.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Mr. Boehner couldn’t point to any area of specific progress between the two sides, saying only that he was encouraged by the respectful tone throughout the discussion.

Even before the meeting began, the president was under fire for choosing to attend a purely partisan event that evening after trying to emphasize areas of common interest earlier in the day.

Mr. Obama spoke to 75 supporters at a “founders’ summit” for Organizing for Action, an offshoot of his former campaign that has been transformed into a nonprofit group aimed at promoting his policy agenda, at a Washington hotel Wednesday night.

He told the crowd gathered at the hotel’s posh Adour restaurant that OFA is focused on getting the 20 million supporters who worked for his campaign, and 4 million as donors, to “stay involved.” In 2008, he said, “We didn’t do as good a job of getting people to stay involved as we could have.”

Mr. Obama also said he is befuddled by the “suspicion and puzzlement” surrounding the latest iteration of OFA.

“It’s not about 2014,” he insisted. “I actually want to govern, at least for a couple of years.”

Rep. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican who leads the Republican Policy Committee, earlier Wednesday directly asked Mr. Obama why he had chosen to speak to OFA that evening and why he seems to be engaged in an endless campaign.

In a 10-minute answer, Mr. Obama reportedly said OFA is organized around policy issues, instead of the 2014 campaign.



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