Democrats Glowing From POTUS Lunch

Obama jived with former colleagues for longer than expected, taking questions on drones, budget and immigration

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, left, and Carl Levin of Michigan enjoyed their Tuesday lunch with President Obama.
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It's not every day POTUS stops by to have lunch with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. And Democratic senators who got to dine with President Barack Obama Tuesday positively gushed about the afternoon repast, saying they proved just as good company as their party leader.

Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin said the president addressed a wide array of topics—from drones to the budget to immigration reform—and took about a dozen questions from his former colleagues.

"I thought the president was very comfortable," Cardin observed. "Senator Reid gave him an ample opportunity to leave, and he decided to stay and answer more questions so he obviously wanted to be there."

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said the president "gave a really great presentation," adding that he and his colleagues appreciate Obama reaching out to both sides of the aisle.

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The president's whirlwind tour of Capitol Hill this week marks a strikingly new style in the president's outreach strategy, which resembled more of a campaign-style rallying of the American public during the fiscal cliff showdown than a nitty gritty negotiation with his Republican foes.

Obama met with Senate Democrats Tuesday, but will return to Capitol Hill Wednesday for a meeting with the House Republican caucus and will make the trek down Pennsylvania Ave., again on Thursday to talk with Senate Republicans and House Democrats.

Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin joked that the "food is always better" when the president comes to Capitol Hill even though the menu was "the same as it always is."

"It is always great whether you are a Democrat or Republican I hope it is always great to see the president," the retiring Levin said.

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Senators said the president updated the caucus on the party's next move in the fiscal fights that have been raging on the Hill.

With Republicans rolling out their budget Tuesday and Democrats expected to reveal their blueprint Wednesday, lawmakers agreed resuming the moribund budget process would likely be the best vehicle for compromise.

"There is clearly a different strategy today than when he was in Annapolis with us at our conference," Cardin says. "On the budget issues, he acknowledged the best course now is to let the budgets go, get them into conference and try to reconcile the two. If we get a broader budget understanding then we can deal with things that replace sequestration."

Democrats exiting the lunch also said the president is feeling very confident that immigration reform will happen this year.

"He feels very confident that we are going to get a good immigration bill," says Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, adding this time around it has a strong chance of passing because "the Republicans took a drubbing in the November elections."

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