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Ryan, McConnell Find Little ‘Common Ground’ at White House

Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walk to the Senate Republicans' policy lunch in the Capitol on Nov. 3. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walk to the Senate Republicans' policy lunch in the Capitol on Nov. 3. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Barack Obama’s private meetings with congressional Republican leaders appeared to do very little to  break the legislative impasse that largely has defined his tenure.  

Descriptions of the meeting from both ends of Pennsylvania Ave. were clinical at best. Notably missing were usual Washington declarations that a high-level meeting was “productive” or “constructive.” Asked about that omission, an aide to Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., called the speaker’s time on Tuesday with Obama “cordial.”

And, in a fitting bit of symbolism, Ryan departed the White House for yet another House attempt to derail Obamacare. The chamber, however, failed to override a veto of a bill to repeal it.

Shortly after the two Republican leaders left the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest advised reporters against expecting any policy announcements — large or small — stemming from the meeting. Instead, he said Obama’s goal for the meeting was to “lay the groundwork” for future cooperation during his last 11 months in office.  

McConnell Demurs on Passing Trade Under Obama

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After Ryan had settled back in at the Capitol, his office sent out a statement that did not even include a quote from the speaker. Instead, it noted Ryan’s “concern over the administration’s implementation of the new Visa Waiver Program.”  

His office also made sure to mention that during a one-on-one lunch, his first private meeting with Obama since taking the gavel, the duo discussed “the differing perspectives of Congress and the executive branch.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., gave away few specifics of the three-way discussion. He did tell reporters back at the Capitol that it is important to address the Zika virus soon, so U.S. officials are not perceived as reactionary, as he said happened with the 2014 Ebola outbreak.  

On the Asian trade deal, McConnell said only that it came up, then reiterated his concerns about it and again poured cold water on Obama’s desires that Congress approve it before he leaves office next January.  

Earnest told reporters the three leaders discussed the Puerto Rico fiscal crisis, noting Ryan and McConnell’s past comments about a desire to provide legislative help in the coming months. But he did not say an agreement was reached on the contents of such assistance. Nor did Ryan’s statement.  

The same was true of the other issues the trio discussed, including how to combat the Zika virus, the sweeping trade pact Obama’s administration negotiated with Asian countries, the White House’s cancer “moonshot” program, and interest in passing a criminal justice overhaul bill this year.  

But on each one, there was no mention of achieving “common ground,” a term both sides used in describing their goals for the closed-door sessions.  

Before he headed to the White House, Ryan was more loquacious about the meeting and his many differences with Obama.  

“We have different philosophies and principles. I think his are not the right ones for America,” Ryan told reporters. “I think he is taking the country away from what it was intended to be. I don’t think we want a liberal progressive welfare state and a second-rate military.”  

Ryan also foreshadowed the apparent lack of “common ground.”  

“He’s a liberal progressive,” the speaker said. “We just don’t agree.”  

Still, Ryan vowed to “keep those disagreements in check, see where the common ground is, go act on that common ground and get some things done.”  

Before the House’s second action to repeal Obama’s health care law since he became speaker, Ryan insisted the looming vote would not make the White House summit awkward.  

“I think he knows how I feel and I know how he feels,” Ryan said. “There are no bones about our differences of opinion.”  

Lindsey McPherson, Niels Lesniewski and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report. Contact Bennett at and follow him on Twitter at @BennettJohnT.


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