There have been instances where presidents have helped get legislation passed, though they are the exception, not the rule.
Bill Clinton offered to support Republicans who voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement. George W. Bush pushed through prescription drug coverage in a rare middle-of-the-night vote in the House of Representatives by making last-minute phone calls to lawmakers.
But Obama’s effort to lobby or socialize with lawmakers has been sporadic, and some of his recent dinners came after the gun votes were all but locked up.
Also, he has little to offer the lawmakers.
While Washington was once a place where lawmakers openly traded votes with goodies from the White House – a president’s attendance at an event or a project in their home state – it’s not like that anymore.
The practice of offering so-called earmarks – pet projects for lawmakers tucked into appropriations bills – fell out of favor following years of criticism by watchdog groups, constituents and even some lawmakers themselves. And even if it hadn’t, the money for many of those projects has dried up as the economy took a downturn and the government slashed budgets.
“There’s not a lot he can give,” said John Burke, a political science professor at the University of Vermont who studies the presidency.
Still, some say, Obama should have offered senators appointments to boards or behind-the-scenes assistance with fundraising – items that even senators from conservative states who want to keep their distance from the president might want.
But in a recent wide-ranging news conference, Obama pushed back on the notion that he could get Congress to – as he called it – “behave.”
“I can urge them to,” he said. “I can put pressure on them. I can, you know, rally the American people. . . . But ultimately they themselves are going to have to say, we want to do the right thing.”