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Three GOPers say Obama needs to reach out, schmooze more

By Rachel Streitfeld, CNN
updated 3:53 PM EST, Tue February 12, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Newcomers to Congress say they are willing to work with the president if he reaches out more
  • They were elected in 2010 as House saw a shift to the right
  • Said one GOP congressman: 'I think what he would find is we are not nearly as intransigent'

Watch CNN's comprehensive coverage of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address starting at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday on CNN TV. Follow online at CNN.com or via CNN's apps for iPhone, iPad and Android. Follow our real-time State of the Union live blog at cnn.com/conversation.

Washington (CNN) -- As President Obama prepares to lay out an agenda Tuesday night, three congressional foes say his challenge might be a lot easier if he spent a little more time schmoozing.

"I think it would make a difference from this standpoint: It is easier to understand where someone is coming from when you have a relationship with him," said Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina.

Forgive the White House if the administration is surprised to hear that from a legislator who last month sent out a press release declaring "Obama Violates the Constitution" in reference to a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

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But in a wide-ranging discussion with CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash, three members of the conservative Republican wave first elected in 2010 -- Gowdy, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Rep. Kristi Noem of South Dakota -- insisted they'd like to find some issues to work on with the president and said Obama could make compromise more realistic by reaching out.

"It's harder to demagogue people," if you have a personal relationship, Gowdy said. "And I think what he would find is we are not nearly as intransigent, and whatever other negative word you want to use. We're trying our best to represent our districts."

The legislators agreed that, aside from one or two receptions at the White House, they had not had any dealings with the Obama administration.

"We have a representative from the White House that is supposed to come meet with my office a lot, a staff member," Kinzinger said. "Haven't heard from him in probably -- actually since the day I got sworn in, two years ago."

Gowdy and Noem seemed surprised to hear about the White House representative.

"I didn't know we had one," Gowdy said.

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The three representatives all came to Washington in 2010, when voters dealt Obama an electoral blow by giving Republicans a majority in the House.

Two years later, the 2010 Congress was criticized for accomplishing little and spurning leaders' attempts to bring both sides to agreement.

Noem said the job came with frustrations.

"To come here and see how slow the process is was a big challenge for me. I like to get things done," she said. "But also, even though there are members here that I disagree with, they are elected by people at home who they think are doing their jobs."

Gowdy said he was committed to certain principles and was representing the voters who elected him, not being an obstructionist.

"What one person would define as obstructionism, another person would define as principle," he said. "We have one-half of the third of the government ... so my job is to stick to my principles, to listen to the other side and find common ground, if you can."

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"I got 65% of the votes" in a re-election bid, Gowdy said. "So the people I worked for are either content with the job I'm doing, or they can't find a better alternative, one or the other."

He and his colleagues mentioned areas where they might be able to work with the president: on taxes, immigration or entitlement reform.

And the trio of Obama critics argued that despite past clashes with the White House, the president could kick start some legislative action by reaching out in Tuesday's State of the Union address.

Kinzinger said he hopes the address is markedly different than another big speech Obama delivered last month.

"We all sat 30 yards away from the president at the inauguration. And I for one was actually hoping he'd talk about big ideas, about how do we reduce the deficit," Kinzinger said. "Instead it was a partisan speech, and I thought he really missed an opportunity. And I hope I can say he took that opportunity in the State of the Union."

Gowdy cautioned that Obama's State of the Union address would set the tone for the coming years.

"We'll find out during the State of the Union whether or not this is a campaign to retake the House in two years, or whether it's a campaign to govern for four years," he said.

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