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Obama Hopes Charm Offensive Will Lead to Grand Bargain

  • Kent Klein

President Barack Obama is spending more time with Republicans in Congress, hoping the change in tactics will lead them to compromise on the budget, immigration, gun control and other issues.

If you've come to Washington for a tour of the White House, you're out of luck.

Because President Obama and Republicans in Congress could not agree on legislation to prevent automatic government spending cuts, White House tours are canceled for now, and many other government operations are on hold.

So Obama is trying a new approach, which the media are calling a "charm offensive."

He has made several trips to Capitol Hill to meet with Republican and Democratic lawmakers, and has even treated a group of Senate Republicans to dinner.

“Over the last several weeks, the press here in Washington has been reporting about ‘Obama’s charm offensive.’ ... [I'm] trying to see if we can break through some of the [nonsense] of our politics here," he said.

So far, the response from Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, has been cautiously positive. “Listen, I’m glad President Obama reached out yesterday and visited with our House Republican conference. And I think we had an honest discussion. But this is going to take more than dinner dates and phone calls," he said.

Former legislative adviser Steve Bell, now at Washington's Bipartisan Policy Council, thinks the president's shift in tactics is a good move. “Really, the effectiveness of the tactics of attacking Republicans and, I won’t use the word demeaning, but, you know, really being quite harsh on Republicans, was backfiring," he said.

President Obama's approval ratings in public opinion polls have slipped lately, and Bell says he now understands that he must work with Congress. "With his poll data going down a little bit, he’s intelligently changed his tactics, and it might bear some fruit," he said.

The president told backers that he wants to help Republican lawmakers overcome pressure from their party to avoid compromising with him. “Because I think a lot of them feel as if they don't have the opportunity to break out of some of this partisan gridlock," he said.

While many in Washington are pessimistic about the chances for a deal in the coming months, Steve Bell predicts the Democratic-led Senate may reach agreements on a number of issues, which he says would prod House Republicans to do the same.

"And it will then become incumbent on the House, led by Republicans by a relatively narrow margin but still led by Republicans, to say yes or no on immigration, yes or no on some sort of rational gun changes, yes or no on the grand bargain," he said.

And if that happens, the White House doors will open again.