- For one night, legislators appeared to put aside their disagreements
- Obama: "We are first and foremost Americans, not Democrats or Republicans"
- "I think there are six different kinds of barbecue," says White House spokesman Carney
Just hours before the Supreme Court was to announce the fate of President Barack Obama's most significant legislative accomplishment, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle brought their families to the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday night for the annual Congressional picnic.
The president addressed the bipartisan crowd on a stage set for the Marine Corps Band, and as he has done in years past, he made a special point to thank the political families in attendance.
"Michelle reminds me every day how difficult it is to be married to a politician," Obama said to laughter from the crowd.
"And you know the sacrifices that all of you make, the birthday parties that get missed, or the soccer games that you're late to, the travel that keeps you away from your loved ones. All of that obviously is in service of our country and you guys are serving alongside those of us who hold elective office."
For one night, legislators appeared to put aside their disagreements. They forgot about the court decision on the president's controversial health care reform legislation, and maybe even put out of their minds a vote scheduled for Thursday pushed by Republicans in the House to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt.
The stalemate over an agreement to stave off an increase in the interest rates on federal student loans appears to be nearing an end, but this likely means additional scrutiny on entrenched disagreements over Bush-era tax cuts and looming budget sequestration. Yet none of this discord seemed to cast a cloud on a sunny evening at the White House.
The attorney general attended the evening's festivities alongside some of his biggest critics -- including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and Homeland Security Chairman Peter King. In April of 2011, King penned an op-ed for the New York Post entitled "Why Holder must resign: AG's contempt for democracy," but at the picnic on Wednesday night the two shook hands chatted briefly, and shared a smile.
Legislators from both parties -- dressed casually in shorts and short sleeves -- spoke amicably, took pictures with Cabinet members and listened in relative silence as the president spoke of the brief peace that the picnic brings to the conversation in Washington.
"We're thrilled that you have at least one day where you have a chance to be together in Washington and nobody's arguing," the president said. "For all the political differences that are sometimes expressed in this town, we are first and foremost Americans, not Democrats or Republicans. And I think all of us want to make sure that during extraordinarily challenging times for this country that we constantly keep that in mind.
"That's what the people who sent us here are expecting and I know that each of us in our own way are hopeful that because of the work that we do here we pass on something a little better and a little brighter to our kids and our grandkids. And so I'm looking forward to continuing to work with you."
Asked at the White House press briefing earlier in the day why the White House even bothered to hold the picnic this year in the midst of such ongoing rancor, Press Secretary Jay Carney defended the event.
"It's a great American tradition," Carney said. "And the president looks forward to it, as do I. Look, I think there are six different kinds of barbecue."
The president ended his remarks by telling the crowd to "enjoy the barbecue," and promising to take a picture with every child 12 and under who was waiting along the rope line.
"I can't say no to little kids," Obama said. "You bigger folks, you're just going to get a handshake and maybe a kiss, unless you haven't shaved."