White House downplays GOP snub over meeting

The White House on Wednesday was downplaying what appeared to be a snub by Republican leaders invited by President Obama for dinner and bipartisanship.

Obama the day after the election announced he would host congressional leaders from both parties for a meeting Thursday at the White House, followed by dinner in the residence.

But House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said they are too busy with prior obligations and rescheduled the meeting for Nov. 30.

As an early test of both parties' campaign rhetoric promising greater bipartisan cooperation, it was not a spectacular success.

“You know, they came to us and said they have some organizational issues that they have to work through prior to that meeting,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. “We'll wait a little bit.”

Lawmakers are busy this week with leadership elections, new-member orientation and other matters in the lame-duck session.

A meeting at the White House is a routine enough invitation — lawmakers from both parties are in and out of the West Wing with some regularity. But an intimate dinner in the residence is a cut above the standard for presidential socializing.

In terms of status, dinner on the mansion's second floor, in the family dining room, generally ranks higher than the working dinners, barbecues on the lawn or even State Dining Room affairs that are among the more typical invitations extended to lawmakers.

Gibbs took pains to downplay the Republican move as a mere scheduling conflict rather than an overt snub.

Among other things, the rescheduled meeting will take place about halfway through the current lame-duck session, limiting the utility of the get-together as a cooperation-building exercise.

Gibbs was unsure whether the Nov. 30 reset will be a meeting followed by dinner. He dismissed any suggestion that this first postelection effort at bipartisanship had failed.

“I think to judge the meeting as a failure without having had the meeting is a weird bar to set,” Gibbs said.

Still, conflict rather than cooperation has already become an established hallmark in postelection relations between the White House and Congress.

The Senate is considering ratifying a new weapons treaty between the United States and Russia, a centerpiece of Obama's commitment to arms reduction that would reduce both countries' arsenals by about 30 percent. But Senate Republicans are balking at the quick vote the White House wants and are considering putting the vote off until next year when a larger Republican majority could make passage even tougher.

Congressional Republicans and the White House are also in a dispute over earmarks, funding for lawmakers' pet projects which have become a symbol of wasteful federal spending.

Republicans are pushing for a ban on earmarks, while Democrats say they need only to be reformed, not eliminated. Gibbs said Obama, who over the weekend called for limits on earmarks, now supports banning them.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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