President Barack Obama has invited the top opposition Republicans in the House of Representatives to lunch at the White House on Wednesday. The administration says it is part of an effort to improve cooperation across party lines.
Speaker of the House John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy will join President Obama for what White House officials are calling a working lunch.
The president's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said Tuesday the meeting will give Mr. Obama and some of his fiercest political opponents a chance to work together.
"The president looks forward to discussing all issues foreign and domestic. Without a doubt there will be a heavy discussion on the economy and on spending, and I think the president will have a chance to talk through with them many of the things that he outlined in the State of the Union [address]. I have no doubt that they have their cares and concerns as well," Gibbs said.
Since Republicans swept to victory in the November midterm elections, putting the House in Republican control, the Obama administration has been trying to work with the opposition party.
Gibbs says Wednesday's lunch is part of that effort. "I think the president, as you heard him say at the beginning of the lame duck session, that we needed to do better to reach out and have those discussions, and I think this is certainly part of that," he said.
Efforts by both parties to improve civility in Washington have taken on momentum since Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot January 8 at a public event in her home city of Tucson, Arizona. Six people were killed. Giffords continues to recover at a rehabilitation facility in Houston, Texas.
Cantor, the number two House Republican and one of Mr. Obama's sharpest critics, passed up a chance Tuesday to criticize the president's policy on Egypt. He told reporters Mr. Obama is "having a tough enough time as it is," and does not need 535 members of Congress offering their views of his conduct of foreign policy.
Gibbs also announced Tuesday, for the first time publicly, that the president had had lunch at the White House with the top Senate Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, last Friday.