Cabinet Room Summit Could Be Chilly

Cabinet Room Summit Could Be Chilly
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President Obama’s meeting Tuesday with House and Senate lawmakers at the White House is scheduled to last 90 minutes, but judging from a week of rancor, it could be a shorter session.

The midday Cabinet Room gathering, structured for business rather than a casual lunch, is supposed to kick off discussions about common goals, the president’s spokesman said Monday.

“I certainly think that there has been adequate attention given to those areas where we disagree,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. “The president’s looking forward to a robust, constructive discussion on those areas where we do agree. They do exist, and the president’s looking forward to talking about them.”

But judging by the blizzard of veto threats issued from the White House during the first seven days of the 114th Congress, it could be a truncated get-together among the invited top four leaders from each party from the House and Senate.

Because Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is recovering from injuries suffered Jan. 1, his attendance is in question, the White House said. In addition, Senate Democrats will meet privately with Obama in Baltimore Thursday, and House and Senate Republicans plan to strategize at their own retreat this week in Hershey, Pa.

Since Republicans won the majority in the Senate and enlarged their numbers in the House, Obama has joked about potential bourbon summits and legislative collaborations with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker John Boehner. Yet he is governing in 2015 using an ambitious style meant to underscore the chasms between the parties and celebrate the constitutional clout wielded by a lame duck president.

Since the new Congress convened, Obama has threatened to veto the majority of bills embraced to date by Republicans – including the Keystone XL pipeline, which attracted some Democratic House votes last week and cleared a procedural hurdle in the Senate Monday. The prolonged face-off over the Canada-to-Texas pipeline may test whether Obama can marshal sufficient votes to defend his first significant veto.

The president’s threats to block measures are stacking up on Capitol Hill as he travels the country to preview planned executive actions and legislative requests he knows will fall on deaf GOP ears, but will be unveiled again as ingredients in his Jan. 20 State of the Union address.

On Tuesday, the president is scheduled to travel to the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center in Arlington, Va., to unveil what the White House described as his plan for voluntary information-sharing between private sector companies and the government to strengthen the government’s ability “to collaborate with industry to combat cyber threats.” 

Earlier Monday, Obama suggested in remarks at the Federal Trade Commission that improved government access to corporate computer and data systems might improve chances to “defend ourselves against cyber attacks.”

Those remarks occurred as hackers accessed the U.S. Central Command Twitter account, a breach now under investigation by the FBI.

On Wednesday, Obama is slated to be in Cedar Falls, Iowa, to promote ideas to encourage better and cheaper Internet broadband, especially in rural America.

None of the January trips has yet focused on the biggest policy arenas Obama has described as ripe for bipartisan alliances during the remainder of his second term, including corporate tax reform, completion and approval of an international trade pact with 11 nations, and federally backed infrastructure projects.

In addition to Keystone, the parties are at odds over newly passed measures to fund the Department of Homeland Security through the end of the year but with GOP restrictions on Obama’s executive relief for migrants, which he ordered in November. The administration has also threatened to veto a 40-hour-workweek measure that would alter the Affordable Care Act and a conservative bill to ease federal regulatory powers over the private sector.

In addition, the president wants the Senate to swiftly confirm Ashton Carter as defense secretary, to replace Chuck Hagel, and Loretta Lynch to become attorney general, to succeed Eric Holder. Both Hagel and Holder have said they will continue in their posts until replacements are confirmed.

On Monday, with no pomp, Obama also signed a bill into law that reauthorizes the Terrorism Risk Insurance program through 2020. That measure, to the disappointment of Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other progressive Democrats, also exempts some financial entities from regulatory requirements in the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation enacted in 2010.


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

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