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WH Bristles as Boehner Trims GOP Invite List

WH Bristles as Boehner Trims GOP Invite List

By Alexis Simendinger - October 10, 2013

The incendiary language that heated up Washington on a cold, rainy Wednesday took political hostage-taking in a new direction.

To hear the White House tell it, House Speaker John Boehner is so concerned that President Obama might convert wavering souls in the GOP conference that the Ohio congressman barred many of his colleagues from accepting the president’s invitation to meet with him on Thursday at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Instead of 232 House lawmakers, Boehner hand-picked 18 leaders and committee chairs to sit down with the president to talk about why they’re not in negotiations.

“President Obama is disappointed that Speaker Boehner is preventing his members from coming to the White House,” spokesman Jay Carney said in a written statement.

“The president thought it was important to talk directly with the members who forced this economic crisis on the country about how the shutdown and a failure to pay the country’s bills could devastate the economy,” he added.

Last week, the White House said Obama wouldn’t meet with his opponents until or unless Congress reopened the government and lifted the nation’s debt limit. Doubtful that House Republicans who otherwise agree with the president about the shutdown would break with the speaker in revolt, Carney last week played down the idea of a White House meeting with like-minded House Republicans.

“I think it’s a pretty safe thing to say that Republicans aren’t waiting for a phone call from the president,” he told RCP on Oct. 3. Obama, Carney added, would be willing to confer with House Republicans after they met his demands to fund the government and lift the threat of default.

By Wednesday, Boehner’s decision to edit the president’s invitation list gave Obama an opening to play the role of spurned host. Brinksmanship over a White House get-together added to the bitter stalemate over the quest for a resumption in basic governance.

The speaker, seeking to retain some control over his restive conference, is unlikely to make headway with Obama while surrounded by the most conservative renegades who have opposed the administration’s policies at every turn.

“The House Republican Conference will instead be represented by a smaller group of negotiators, including the elected leadership and certain committee chairmen,” spokesman Brendan Buck announced in a statement that named Boehner’s chosen teammates.

After nearly every House Democrat showed up Wednesday to meet with Obama for more than an hour in the East Room, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters, “This is a sad scenario for our country.” Nothing had changed, other than the escalating anxiety Democratic lawmakers felt as their constituents around the country puzzled over why Congress can’t agree on piecemeal bills that would restore function to parts of the government.

During the afternoon meeting, Obama appealed to House Democrats to stick with the party’s strategy of trying to pressure Republicans to endorse short-term relief measures that would rely on Democratic votes, after which budget policy negotiations favored by Republicans would conceivably function as a sweetener to move the two parties toward each other.

Boehner has shown no inclination thus far to move in that direction, and Pelosi gritted her teeth and chopped the chilly air with her hand as she vowed that Republicans would “get nothing” in return for reopening the government and lifting the cap on the nation’s borrowing authority -- because Democrats had already conceded to a funding level ($986 billion) favored by the GOP but viewed by Democrats as painful.

“All we want is a short-term” continuing resolution, Pelosi told reporters who were crowded around her under the West Wing portico. She said she would do what the president wanted.

Obama implored attendees to hang tough as an Oct. 17 default deadline approached and Republicans continued to say they would hold out for more concessions, as yet ill-defined. Obama planned to meet with Senate Democrats on Thursday.

The president told his fellow Democrats in the House that he was “grateful” they were “continuing to promote those policies we need to achieve a better bargain for the middle class,” the White House explained in a carefully worded statement.

And just in case anyone had forgotten about the American “hostages” -- residing around the country or imprisoned by Boehner in the Capitol to prevent them from collaborating with the president -- Obama offered a by-now familiar message, his aides noted.

“We cannot let one faction of the Republicans in the House demand a ransom for Congress doing its job and paying the bills we have already incurred,” the president repeated. 

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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