Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Obama woos GOP, finally

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
March 7, 2013 -- Updated 1444 GMT (2244 HKT)
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
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT