President Obama and lawmakers plan to break bread tonight at the White House Congressional Picnic — a dinner that perhaps couldn’t come at a more awkward time for the president and lawmakers.
The White House tradition allows lawmakers to bring their spouses and children to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to meet the president, and it’s one of the few opportunities that the dueling branches of government have each year to meet in an informal, nonpartisan setting.
But considering this week’s news, the picnic banter could be a bit uncomfortable, eh? To wit:
— As the election season heats up, Obama is spending most of his time on the stump railing against the unpopular Congress, while GOP lawmakers regularly criticize the president. (Among others, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) once vowed to make Obama a one-term president. Aides to McConnell said they didn’t know as of late Tuesday whether he plans to attend the picnic.)
— Democrats and Republicans are eagerly anticipating a ruling Thursday from the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the health-care reform law, an issue that divides the parties unlike any other in recent years.
— The Republican-led House plans to vote Thursday to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress — another potential pox on the Obama administration. And Holder plans to attend, according to the Justice Department.
As 2chambers walked the halls of Congress on Tuesday, he spotted several lawmakers with young children and spouses in tow who are in town for tonight's picnic. And a quick informal sampling suggested that at least some of the president’s most vocal Republican critics plan to attend tonight, despite their differences.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)joked that he might personally deliver a subpoena to the president as part of his lawsuit related to Operation “Fast and Furious,” if he can get out of an event he’s scheduled to attend tonight in Baltimore.
“I was going to maybe serve the lawsuit I’m preparing,” he said with a laugh, “but that would wreck the picnic. I don’t want to be a skunk at the White House picnic.”
King added that “The president’s demeanor around those types of events is excellent. Whenever we’re doing those types of events, I’ve found that he and Michelle to both conduct themselves well. We just disagree philosophically.”
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) — who famously shouted “You lie!” during Obama’s 2009 speech to Congress about health-care reform — said he plans to attend, as he does almost every year.
“His wife, Michelle’s family, is from South Carolina,” Wilson said. “So we speak South Carolina. Her family is from Georgetown, S.C., and my mom and dad lived right next to there. I feel a personal connection to her, so it’s not negative at all.”
But Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), a tea party darling and critic of the president, said he’ll skip the picnic to attend to other duties: “I got elected to Congress to represent the people of Florida, not to attend a picnic. I can hold a picnic at my house anytime. And you should come.”
Despite their differences, even McConnell sounded a hopeful note Tuesday, telling reporters that he thinks that recent partisan rancor is easing: “I think the Senate the last couple of months is operating like it used to. We’ve had amendments, we’ve had votes, we’ve passed bills. For some of our members it’s almost an out-of-body experience, because as soon as they got here all they were confronted with was filling up the tree and filing cloture and having show votes.”
Obama usually keeps his remarks at the picnic brief, nonpartisan and complimentary, but at the June 2010 picnic — held just weeks after the BP Gulf Coast oil spill — he suggested that the spill “is going to put more additional pressure on Congress to work with states and the administration to help deal with this tragedy and this crisis.”
Last year, Obama called out the political spouses and children in the crowd and said that the picnic is “one modest way for us to say to all of you, thank you.”
“We’ve got Democrats here and the Republicans here, and we all have differences on issues ... but the one thing that we have to remind ourselves every day is we’re all Americans and we’re all part of the American family,” he said.
True, but lately the family can’t seem to agree on anything. Will hot dogs and hamburgers help? Stay tuned.
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