Act 3 in President Barack Obama’s springtime senatorial reach-out was pretty easy to miss. Tucked between his furious Rose Garden reaction to Wednesday’s gun control defeat and his comforting words of tribute at Thursday morning’s Boston memorial service, the president spent two hours at dinner with a dozen Democratic senators.
None of the four Democrats who crossed party lines and helped defeat the background check compromise were invited, so there were probably no dissenting views when the table talk turned to the president’s promise to try to resurrect that legislation.
But two senators from the “gang of eight,” Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Michael Bennet of Colorado, were on hand to talk about the next steps now that their immigration overhaul measure has been unveiled.
The guest list for the meal was assembled by Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray of Washington, so the not-surprising word afterward was that the main topic of discussion was the prospects of a deficit-reduction deal, including Obama’s proposal, provocative to so many Democrats, for holding down the growth of Social Security and other federal benefits by adopting a less generous gauge for inflation.
The investigations of both the marathon bombings and the suspicious mailings to at least five senators also got discussed at the dinner, which Obama hosted at the Jefferson Hotel five blocks north of the White House, just as he did his initial dinner with a dozen GOP senators in March.
But other than ticking off the topics, neither the White House nor any of the dinner guests would discuss specifics, agreeing at the outset to keep what they all described as a frank and lively discussion to themselves in order to encourage candor. Obama spoke briefly at the outset and then invited the senators to speak about whatever they wanted while they tucked into the three courses ordered off a lavish, if limited, menu.
The others senators who attended were Chris Coons of Delaware, Dianne Feinstein of California, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Mark Warner of Virginia, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Ron Wyden of Oregon.