West Wing Briefing

Obama, GOP adversaries to meet in closed-door session

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 25, 2010; 8:56 AM

President Obama will submit to a polite but pointed grilling from his Republican Senate adversaries in the Capitol's LBJ room Tuesday afternoon, a rare show of bipartisanship in an increasingly hostile city.

Republican aides say they expect a respectful tone from the 41 members of the minority during the closed-door session, despite an accumulated frustration among members of the caucus.

"They'll be nice," said one leadership aide. "When you have a president, especially if it's not on camera where people are preening, it tends to be respectful and calm. There's no yelling or screaming."

As another senator's aide said: "It's not going to be like the House."

But that doesn't mean the questions for Obama will be easy, or without a tinge of anger at a president who -- according to many who will be in the room -- is taking the country in the wrong direction.

Top on the list, according to GOP sources, will be debt and spending, which is a hot topic as the Congress considers supplemental spending bills that Republicans say will add to the nation's deficit.

"Spending and deficits are going to be big," on Senate aide said. "There's just a general frustration with that."

Aides expect the eight Gulf Coast senators to ask pointed questions about the administration's response to the oil gushing from the bottom of the sea. The environmental crisis is rapidly becoming a political crisis for Obama as critics grow weary with the government's inability to stop the leak.

Immigration and climate change legislation -- the two big presidential priorities which are still pending -- could fill up the rest of the time, especially since Obama has conceded that he needs at least some Republican help to achieve both.

The meeting during the Senate Republican caucus's weekly lunch was Obama's idea -- he called Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week to ask if he could attend. But GOP aides said they are not expecting a "specific ask" from the president during the session, the second such gathering of Obama's term.

"The Republican Conference welcomes his visit, where they will have a wide-ranging discussion on the year ahead," said Don Stewart, McConnell's spokesman.

Such meetings are rare, aides say. Presidents typically meet on Capitol Hill in bipartisan gatherings, or with members of their own party. The other time Obama met with Senate Republicans was shortly after his inauguration.

Aides said the weekly luncheon, which is usually scheduled from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., will start early -- at noon -- to accommodate Obama. And Senate aides promised not to start serving food until the president leaves, to avoid the "annoying clinking" during his remarks.

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