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Who's coming to the White House meeting?

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 30, 2010; 9:25 AM

President Obama has heavily hyped Tuesday morning's session with congressional leaders as his first step both in rebounding from the rebuke voters handed him in this month's elections and in reducing the partisanship in Washington.

But it also represents a key meeting for the members of Congress themselves. Here's a guide to the Democrats and Republicans attending the session at the White House, their relationships with the president and what they might discuss with him.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio): Boehner and Obama not only have virtually no relationship, they spent months attacking each other on the campaign trail.

Since the election, Obama has held back. He and his aides did not complain when GOP leaders decided they could not show up two weeks ago, when this meeting was originally supposed to occur.

Boehner has not been as conciliatory; he said Obama was in "denial" initially about the meaning of the election results.

The designated speaker of the House in the next Congress and the leader of a party that just made huge gains in Congress, Boehner is not likely to give ground to the president on anything.

Instead, Boehner will likely emphasize at Tuesday's meeting and beyond that Republicans want the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 permanently extended for all Americans, including those with incomes above $250,000 a year.

His power is limited in the lame-duck session of Congress, because Democrats still far outnumber Republicans in the House. But that will change come January.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.): The No. 2 House Republican has long cultivated a political profile separate from Boehner, even as they share the same views on most policy issues.

Cantor is in many ways the voice of a younger group of Republicans who have grown in influence in the past two years. So the Virginia lawmaker is likely to highlight positions the party has adopted since Obama's election, such as its strong opposition to earmarks. (Obama has announced he would back an earmark ban, but Cantor and Boehner want him to pledge to veto any legislation that includes earmarks.)

If there is any sharp exchange in the meeting, it probably will be between Obama and Cantor. In early 2009, a back-and-forth between the two during one of these closed-door meetings led Obama to bluntly remind Cantor that, in the 2008 campaign, "I won."

This time, Cantor could say something similar to the president.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.): During Obama's first two years in office, Pelosi has been perhaps the president's most important ally, pushing the health-care bill through the House even after it seemed dead.

But Pelosi might not be as close to the president in the future. Although the pair share the same views on tax cuts and many other issues, Pelosi does not see the election results as a call for bipartisanship, as Obama has. Instead, she has emphasized the need for Democrats to stand firm and not compromise on key principles in order to reach agreements with Republicans.

For example, while Obama has said he wants to be open to the conclusions of a deficit commission he appointed earlier this year, Pelosi has said she will adamantly oppose reductions in Social Security benefits or raising the retirement age.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.): These two men are likely to be supportive of Obama in the session and throughout the next two years. Durbin is a longtime ally of the president, though Hoyer is considered more moderate than Pelosi and perhaps more amenable to reaching compromises with the GOP.

Durbin has suggested that if Democrats agree to some kind of compromise with the GOP on tax cuts, Republicans should agree on extending unemployment benefits, another key issue likely to be raised at the meeting.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.): Obama and Reid are very friendly; the Nevada senator encouraged Obama to run for president. Beyond taxes, Reid and Obama must work through two complicated issues in the lame-duck session: the DREAM Act and "don't ask, don't tell."

Gay rights activists in the Democratic Party are demanding that Obama complete a repeal of the policy that bans people who are openly gay from serving in the military, as the president promised during his 2008 campaign. The repeal has stalled in the Senate, as Reid and Democrats have not found any GOP support.

As for the DREAM Act, which seeks to provide legal papers for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States when they were children, Latino voters were key to Obama's victory in 2008 and Reid's reelection in Nevada this month.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.): McConnell made headlines by declaring earlier this month his goal of making sure Obama only serves one term as president. And he is in many ways the most important barrier to Obama achieving his goals for the lame-duck session of Congress.

McConnell and most Senate Republicans have signaled that they would oppose any compromise on the tax cuts. They have blocked the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal, and they criticized the DREAM Act.

McConnell has repeatedly said since the election that Obama and Congress should focus almost exclusively on the economy and put aside issues like immigration and gay rights, a stance he is likely to emphasize at the meeting.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.): The Arizona senator has already spoken repeatedly with Obama administration officials since Election Day because of his role as the lead Republican negotiator on the nuclear weapons treaty known as New START.

Obama casts the treaty as his most important pressing foreign policy goal. But Kyl has highlighted problems with the treaty and said the Senate does not have enough time to properly consider it over the next few weeks.

In the meeting, Obama is likely to press Kyl and McConnell to back the treaty, in a move towards showing the two parties can work together. But it's not clear Kyl will heed Obama's urging.

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