The Washington Post

What President Obama can learn from female Senators

President Obama will dine with all 20 female senators at the White House Tuesday night, crashing a regular gathering among the women of the Senate.

Some of the women of the U.S. Senate. And Al Franken.

And, according to Debbie Walsh of Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics, the very fact that the women of the Senate get together at all could teach the broader Congress and White House a lesson about political civility. The gathering "might not seem like that high a bar [but] it makes them stand out," said Walsh "This is something that's missing in the Capitol right now."

The senators -- 16 Democrats and four Republicans -- meet for dinner on a quarterly basis, and have for years. Not one but two women senators specifically suggested the president meet with the bipartisan group. Last fall Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) mentioned the idea to Obama when he was touring the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast; Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) suggested the same idea to Obama in February when the president called her to discuss his nomination of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

"She took the opportunity to encourage him to have the women of the Senate over to the White House if he was looking for solutions-driven conversations," said Murkowski spokesman Matthew Felling.

Obama's in a bit of a dining frenzy at the moment, having held three previous private dinners with groups of senators over the past couple of months. For some like Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), this will be her second evening meal with the president in a single week.

Gillibrand kept the White House apprised of the dates the women senators had set aside, according to her spokeswoman Bethany Lesser, and on Monday the president called New York's junior senator to deliver the news. "I'll one up you," he told her, according to Lesser, "I'll invite you guys all to the White House."

A nice offer, but it raised a slight dilemma: Murkowski was already planning to host the group at her home, and had even gotten the food already. According to her office, she accepted the change of venue without complaint, and even offered to have the Alaska halibut she’d been planning on presenting delivered to the White House.

No word on whether the fish delivery is taking place, but one thing is clear: in a political system defined by dysfunction at the moment, at least one group of players knows how to operate without a fuss.

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.



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