Obama outreach to 'defuse' GOP opposition, Pelosi says
CNN — (CNN) -- Breaking bread with Republican senators. Meeting with the GOP House and Senate caucuses. Sitting down to lunch with the GOP's budget point man -- who tried to bump him from the White House last year.
Is President Barack Obama, as one pundit said, just hungry? Or is he engaging in a newfound effort to bridge gaps between the parties as his second term gets under way? The top Democrat in the House says the latter.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in an exclusive interview to run Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that Obama has "been very bipartisan in his approach" to Republicans.
"All of us come here to get a job done for the American people, and certainly that is the case with the president of the United States," Pelosi told CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley. "I think that these meetings are not something to say, 'Well, I'll do this with you now and do that with them later.' I think it is, 'Let's get some things done together to make elections less important.'"
Obama's reaches across the aisle come after the politically bruising battle over the so-called fiscal cliff in late December, where lawmakers hammered out a last-minute deal and posturing over the forced federal spending cuts known as the sequester and by all accounts lawmakers and the White House never got close to reaching common ground.
Obama charged Republicans were "protecting special interest tax breaks for the well-off" rather than protecting the economy from harmful cuts, while House Speaker John Boehner said the House had already voted and that Democrats needed to "get off their ass and begins to do something."
But then came the president's outreach.
He made phone calls to several Republican senators and then sat down to dinner on Wednesday with a dozen of them at a hotel near the White House to talk about the federal government's finances.
He ate lunch with the top Republican and Democrat on the House Budget Committee. After the meal with Rep. Paul Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate, and Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Ryan said the meeting was a "frank discussion about Washington's budget challenges."
Next week, Obama is expected to meet with House Republicans on Wednesday and Senate Republicans on Thursday. He also will meet with Senate Democrats on Tuesday and House Democrats on Thursday.
This is ahead of the March 27 deadline to avoid a government shutdown and an expected need to increase the federal debt limit this spring or summer.
He also wants to make progress on immigration reform, education reform and gun violence reduction.
In his weekly address on Saturday, Obama said, "Making progress on these issues won't be easy. In the months ahead, there will be more contentious debate and honest disagreement between principled people who want what's best for this country. But I still believe that compromise is possible. I still believe we can come together to do big things. And I know there are leaders on the other side who share that belief."
Pelosi said on CNN that the president's effort was aimed at solutions.
"Let's come together for the benefit of the American people -- first and foremost, that's our responsibility," she said. "If he can defuse some of their opposition to some of these issues, bravo again for the American people that we can get a job done for them. That's far more important than what happens in an election."
And Republicans are taking note, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who said the recent meetings are a positive sign.
"This is a change that I think we should encourage, whether it's motivated for all sorts of reasons that we don't understand or not," he said. "Ronald Reagan would have done that, George Bush would have done that."