WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama paid a rare visit to Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill Tuesday, seeking their support on energy, immigration and other top priority measures. But he hit a buzz saw of criticism and resentment that bodes poorly for the remainder of his legislative agenda.
In the tense closed-door meeting, Obama told Senate Republicans he did not want legislative business to grind to a halt just because an election was approaching, and he asked for their cooperation on ratifying the START treaty, confirming Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court and passing legislation to improve the economy.
But at least one angry Republican accused Obama of treating members of the opposition like political props, saying the president’s bipartisan words have repeatedly been followed by partisan deeds on such issues as regulation of Wall Street, health care, and economic stimulus.
“I told him I thought there was a degree of audacity in him showing up today,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who accused the administration of sabotaging efforts to write a bipartisan Wall Street bill. “I asked him how he was able to reconcile that duplicity.”
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Obama’s response to the GOP criticism showed he was so “thin skinned” that he should “take a Valium” before he comes to talk to Republicans again.
As Obama left the Capitol, he told reporters, “It was a good and frank exchange.” White House spokesman Bill Burton said the session was “civil in tone” and that Republican accounts of the meeting were overblown.
But the byplay underscored how deep are the suspicions that Obama faces even as he presses for legislation on which he dearly needs Republican support – a bill now before the Senate to provide more funding for the war in Afghanistan. The war is opposed by many liberals, and war spending will be almost impossible to pass without Republican votes.
Democratic leaders also are preparing for action on a $200 billion bill to promote job creation that will stall in the Senate unless it draws at least a modicum of Republican backing.
Obama’s trip to Capitol Hill came just days after the Senate handed him a big victory by approving the sweeping Wall Street bill. Although the goals of the bill had enjoyed broad bipartisan support, it passed with votes from only four Republicans.
Many lawmakers believe that may be the last major piece of legislation that can make it through Congress in this election year, as hopes for ambitious energy and immigration legislation fade. Although Obama’s visit was initially seen as a last-ditch effort to drum up Republican support for those initiatives, many thought hopes of a breakthrough were unrealistic.
“Surely you didn’t think we were going to walk out of there and have some specific agreement on one of these issues,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.