Posted: Mar 6, 2013 8:00 PM by Stephanie Condon, John Nolen - CBS News
Updated: Mar 7, 2013 12:23 AM
As part of his effort to improve relations between the White House and Capitol Hill, President Obama dined with a small group of Republican senators this evening and, according to the White House, he picked up the tab.
Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.; Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; John Hoeven, R-N.D.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; Bob Corker, R-Tenn.; Mike Johanns, R-Neb.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Dan Coats, R-Ind., Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; and Pat Toomey, R-Pa.; are among the senators who joined the president for dinner tonight. The group dined at the Jefferson Hotel a few blocks from the White House.
"The president greatly enjoyed the dinner and had a good exchange of ideas with the senators," a senior administration official said.
"Obviously, it's an open-ended dinner, so I'm sure certainly that all of us are concerned about the fiscal state of the country," Ayotte said earlier today.
Chambliss joked before the dinner, "I wonder who's buying," adding that he was ready to listen to the president. "It's going to be an interesting dinner, but I appreciate him at least reaching out and making the effort."
Hoeven said prior the get-together, "We'll talk obviously about what we can do to address the debt and deficit. And what we can do come together in a bipartisan way to do it."
In continuing his outreach, Mr. Obama will join Senate Republicans at a lunch meeting next Thursday. The president is also planning separate meetings with House Republicans and House Democrats next week.
"Senate Republicans welcome the President to the Capitol," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement. "And I appreciate he took my recommendation to hear from all of my members."
Mr. Obama requested the lunch meeting with Senate Republicans through his chief of staff on Tuesday. He's also requested an opportunity to visit the House GOP and Democratic caucuses on Capitol Hill to talk about his legislative priorities.
With Washington mired down in budget talks, Mr. Obama has been reaching out not just to congressional leaders, but also to rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans in an effort to find what he calls a "caucus of common sense." He recently reached out, for example, to a small group of Republican senators including Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Susan Collins, R-Maine, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
Earlier today, House Republicans passed a bill to fund the government through September. If Congress fails to pass a bill to fund the government before March 27, federal government operations have partially shut down. Both Democrats and Republicans have said they want to avoid a shutdown, though some Democrats and the White House say they are deeply concerned about the House Republican bill, which keeps in place most of the sequester cuts that recently went into effect.
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