Obama to dine with GOP senators again

Will civility end Senate gridlock? Ha ha, no

Published March 27, 2013 9:23PM (EDT)

    (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
(AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Barack Obama is going to have dinner with Republicans again. The president asked Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson to put the whole thing together, and no one yet knows where it will be or who will go, but it will definitely Increase Civility.

A few weeks ago, Obama had dinner with 12 Republican senators and the group "talked about the debt, deficits and taxes." That dinner having apparently done nothing to change the fact that on matters related to debt, deficits and taxes Republicans and Democrats don't merely have different preferred solutions but in fact wildly different interpretations of what the problems are, they will try again. Or maybe it will be a different group of 12 Republican senators this time, who knows.

I imagine Obama will once again push for a Deficit Deal, involving "a mixture of revenue and spending cuts," no matter how little we need such a thing at the moment, and he will also probably bring up immigration and gun control, though Republicans don't need much more nudging on immigration and gun control will never interest them.

I sorta feel like he should probably bring up Caitlin Halligan and Richard Cordray and the current Senate Republican abuse of Senate procedure to essentially force nullification of laws they don't care for.

Here's something the guy Obama called to organize this dinner party said immediately after Harry Reid negotiated a filibuster "compromise" that did nothing to curb the relentless use of the filibuster:

"The rules change doesn't really do a lot," Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) told TPM, saying he’d vote for it. “It certainly preserves the 60-vote threshold, preserves the blue slip procedure. It preserves the filibuster. And that’s important heritage for the Senate.”

Maybe Obama could use this dinner to explain to Sen. Isakson that "the 60-vote threshold" (a tradition dating all the way back to the 1970s) isn't supposed to be the norm in the Senate, and in fact it wasn't until very, very recently, starting when Bush wanted to appoint some bad judges but really establishing itself when Obama wanted to do literally anything at all. I mean, explaining that won't be of any use but then perhaps after the dinner the president could schedule another dinner with Harry Reid, during which he could ask the majority leader to actually for real do something about the filibuster.

The most obvious flaw with the "charm offensive" strategy is that it does nothing to change the motivating factors that lead senators to act the way they do. It may even make things worse, as there is a distinct possibility that the president's usually justified contempt for all members of Congress will only be more obvious in an intimate, personal setting than it is on television or expressed in print via statements from those close to him or pretending to be close to him.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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Barack Obama Civility Filibuster Politics U.s. Senate