Obama to meet conservative freshman lawmakers at White House

The 2010 election brought scores of tea party-backed candidates into Washington.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 24, 2011; 8:44 AM

The president will greet his shellackers on Monday.

President Obama will meet with the newly elected members of the House and Senate at an evening reception at the White House that is closed to the media. The administration has not yet put out a list of which members will be in attendance, but the event no doubt will be dominated by people who contributed to Obama's self-described "shellacking" in November: 87 of the nearly 100 new House members are Republicans, as are 13 of the 16 new senators .

The invitation from the White House is the latest move by the president to reach out to groups that have been opponents in the past, from GOP leaders in Congress to business groups. Many of the newly elected lawmakers sharply attacked Obama during their 2010 campaigns.

"Look, obviously there are a host of new members and the president - simply to have an occasion to get to meet them, to have them come here, come to the White House, I think [is] all in a larger effort to hopefully understand not what divides us but what brings us together," said press secretary Robert Gibbs.

On that note, don't expect any big discussion of key issues or legislative priorities during the reception.

Just like the Christmas gathering that the White House holds for members of Congress, the event will likely be more about building goodwill. Members of Congress, even those not from the president's party, usually spend their time chatting with one another and getting pictures taken with the commander-in-chief.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), a new member who, last year, had this to say about Obama: "I absolutely can't stand him."

Asked about the reception, West said: "I haven't been to the White House since I was a kid. It's always an honor to go to the White House."

Obama on Monday

In addition to the reception for members of Congress, Obama will speak at an event to honor the families of people serving in the armed forces. And he will prepare for Tuesday's State of the Union address.

The speech

A series of liberal groups, including Moveon.org, are holding a conference call today to urge President Obama to support Social Security in his speech. It is the latest of several efforts to help shape the annual address.

The groups, wary of the proposal of the bipartisan deficit commission to increase the retirement age, want Obama to promise explicitly in the speech that he will not support any changes to Social Security that would decrease benefits or raise the retirement age.

The White House has not indicated whether Obama will back any Social Security proposal in the speech, or discuss the issue at all.

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