Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he was “moved” to be invited to the White House three days after Obama’s inauguration to meet with the new president and vice president as well as Cabinet members. But, he said, that was the beginning and the end of the White House’s attempts to reach out to him. He said he’d been invited to the White House with other senators from time to time, but usually after a decision or policy, such as the health care bill, already had been finalized.
Hatch said he personally liked Obama, but the senator called this administration the “most disrespectful and hostile to Congress” in his nearly four decades in Washington. “I think it’s his personality,” he said. “You can’t do these things without Congress.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., memorably hung up on Obama when he called to introduce himself just after his election. (She didn’t believe that it was him, and he convinced her only after the third time.) But Ros-Lehtinen, who was then the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, became hopeful that they could forge a relationship.
“I thought he was going to have excellent relations with members of Congress if he was calling little old me,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Little did I know that that was going to be as good as it gets.”
Obama and Ros-Lehtinen share views on a number of issues, including support for the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally, and for repealing a federal law that doesn’t recognize gay marriage. But she said subsequent interactions with the president left her with the feeling that he “didn’t place much value on reaching out to members of Congress.”
“He doesn’t want to take the time to deal with the legislative process,” she said. “I’m not saying I feel slighted, I’m saying he missed an opportunity for all of Congress. . . . On many issues there were opportunities, but he showed no patience for meeting people halfway.”
Obama’s closest allies say it’s been difficult to work with Republicans since Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” That statement came nearly two years into Obama’s term.
“I go to work there every day, and when you face 382 Republican filibusters, which is what we faced over the past six years, before Obama and since his arrival, it is hard to say that they’re just waiting for an invitation to tea to treat us more nicely,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.
“Having Cantor and McConnell over for cocktails once a week wouldn’t have made a difference,’’ agreed Bill Burton, a former Obama staffer who works for Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama “super” PAC. He was referring to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
There’s no reason to think, experts say, that Obama will change in a second term if he’s re-elected next month.
In his autobiography, “Dreams From My Father,” Obama said he saw other people as an “unnecessary distraction” and that even as a young man he avoided groups.