Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Obama woos GOP, finally

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
updated 9:44 AM EST, Thu March 7, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gloria Borger: President Obama is right to call Republicans, invite them to dinner
  • She says the White House strategy on forced budget cuts is failing
  • Obama, whose popularity dropped slightly, needs progress on his agenda, she says
  • Borger: White House may be thinking big picture

(CNN) -- So it's good to see that the president has finally started calling some Republicans. He's even invited some to share a meal. And not just moderates, but also those who have been his most vocal opponents -- like John McCain and his buddy Lindsey Graham.

This, of course, is something completely different. After his re-election, the president was asked about his unusually standoffish behavior with Congress. He took offense.

Look at what happened with me and Speaker John Boehner, he said. "When we went out and played golf, we had a great time. But that didn't get a deal done in 2011." And just recently, a senior administration official told me, "There's this myth in Washington that somehow if we all sat down around a table, Republicans would miraculously be more willing to work with us."

Gloria Borger
Gloria Borger

That's ridiculous, he clearly thought. Just absurd.

Rocky start to second term raises questions about Obama

So now the White House has decided it's not so silly after all. The president had dinner with 12 GOP senators Wednesday. The big question: Why now?

There are all kinds of ways to answer that, and I'll get to them in a moment. But let me first say this: Give the president some credit. It's the right thing to do, and he should have done it awhile back. He has nothing to lose, and has never had anything to lose by engaging. And if he is interested in some larger budget deal down the road, this is the only way to figure out if it is at all possible.

So now let's get to motive. Having tried and failed to back Republicans into a corner on the forced spending cuts, the White House woke up Wednesday morning to an ABC News/Washington Post poll showing that -- by a 2-1 margin -- the public supports the sequester cuts in general, although it opposes the ones for military spending.

They're also seeing the president's popularity suffer: It has dropped an average of four points since mid-February.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Worse yet, they're seeing that Americans are starting to blame both sides for the Washington standoff. Not long ago, Republicans bore most of the blame. Not anymore.

The administration's strategy hasn't worked. The White House made the assumption that because it succeeded in getting new revenue during the fiscal cliff negotiations, it would be able to do so again. After all, that's what the 2012 election was about: the middle class versus tax cuts for the wealthy. The argument worked and Republicans caved on the fiscal cliff, so they would cave again.

Just the reverse has happened. The GOP cut a deal in January that included tax increases without commensurate spending cuts. No doubt it was a short-term tactical success for the White House, fresh off its impressive re-election. But in the long run, it could turn out to be a strategic mistake. Why? Because Republicans are now more dug in than ever on taxes -- at least without tax reform or serious entitlement cuts.

It's not without irony that the Democratic win on the fiscal cliff narrowed its chances to get a deal on the forced spending cuts. The deal didn't happen. And the public didn't buy the Armageddon scenario. So the once unthinkable cuts are now real, and the public isn't predicting the end of the world.

All of which gets us back to the White House dinner party. Having failed to secure a short-term truce, maybe the White House is finally thinking big picture. The public doesn't like the military cuts; neither do lots of Republicans, including McCain. Maybe that's the entry into a larger discussion: How can we do this without damaging our military?

The pieces are all there: Graham has already told CNN he would be open to increasing revenues if the administration is willing to do serious entitlement reform. Other senior Republicans have said there's a window this summer to get something done. The president is trying to protect the rest of his agenda -- immigration reform, climate change, gun control -- from falling victim to the budget wars.

So even if this is a cynical and calculated dinner hosted by a president in danger of losing political altitude, I'll take it. Even if the president is doing it to prove it won't work, I'll take it. It's not the Last Supper, but it is the first.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
updated 8:01 AM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Newt Gingrich warns that President Obama's border plan spends too much and doesn't do what is needed
updated 1:53 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Errol Lewis says if it really wants to woo black voters away from the Democrats, the GOP better get behind its black candidates
updated 5:07 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
updated 8:08 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
updated 6:41 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died so blacks would no longer be viewed as inferior but rather enjoy the same inherent rights given to whites in America.
updated 7:47 AM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Alex Castellanos says recent low approval ratings spell further trouble for the President
updated 11:49 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Paul Begala says Boehner's plan to sue Obama may be a stunt for the tea party, or he may be hoping the Supreme Court's right wing will advance the GOP agenda that he could not
updated 12:59 PM EDT, Sun July 6, 2014
The rapture is a bizarre teaching in fundamentalist circles, made up by a 19th-century theologian, says Jay Parini. It may have no biblical validity, but is a really entertaining plot device in new HBO series
updated 1:49 PM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
Ruben Navarrette: President Obama needs to send U.S. marshals to protect relocating immigrant kids.
updated 3:03 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
updated 6:37 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says charging the dad in the hot car death case with felony murder, predicated on child neglect, was a smart strategic move.
updated 9:26 AM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Van Jones says our nation is sitting on a goldmine of untapped talent. The tech companies need jobs, young Latinos and blacks need jobs -- so how about a training pipeline?
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
A drug that holds hope in the battle against hepatitis C costs $1,000 per pill. We can't solve a public health crisis when drug makers charge such exorbitant prices, Karen Ignagni says.
updated 7:33 AM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
Julian Zelizer says our political environment is filled with investigations or accusations of another scandal; all have their roots in the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon
updated 2:14 PM EDT, Sun July 6, 2014
Sally Kohn says Boehner's lawsuit threat is nonsense that wastes taxpayer money, distracts from GOP's failure to pass laws to help Americans
updated 11:26 AM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has circumvented Congress with his executive actions and plans on filing suit against the President this month
updated 9:31 AM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
Hands down, it's 'Hard Day's Night,' says Gene Seymour-- the exhilarating, anarchic and really fun big screen debut for the Beatles. It's 50 years old this weekend
updated 6:01 PM EDT, Wed July 2, 2014
Belinda Davis says World War I plunged millions of women across the globe into "men's jobs," even as they kept home and hearth. The legacy continues into today.
updated 2:24 PM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
Pablo Alvarado says all the children trying to cross the U.S. border shows immigration is a humanitarian crisis that can't be solved with soldiers and handcuffs.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
Elizabeth Mitchell says Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi dreamt up the symbolic colossus not for money, but to embody a concept--an artwork to amaze for its own sake. Would anyone do that today?
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Wed July 2, 2014
Wendy Townsend says Jamaica sold two protected islands to China for a huge seaport, which could kill off a rare iguana and hurt ecotourism.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT