Though his so-called "charm offensive" has been met with derision by some Republicans, President Barack Obama has succeeded in winning over some by trekking to the Capitol this week. For a man previously described as aloof or disinterested with glad-handing fellow politicians, the trips to meet with members on both sides of the aisle had two purposes—to take away Republican criticism that he refuses to reach out to them, and to show humility and a willingness to deal.
"I'm puzzled that he didn't do this a year ago, but at least belatedly he is reaching out to Republicans for the first time in a very long time," says Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
Collins, a moderate Republican who could be a critical vote in support of compromise deals ranging from the budget to immigration and gun control, adds that she believes his outreach is genuine, but cautions his efforts should only be the beginning if he's serious.
"What he really needs to do after coming to the hill and having these social events is to invite a group of Republicans and Democrats down to the White House for a real working session with his OMB director and with [the president himself], where we really start hashing through the issues," Collins says. "I think this initial overture is welcome, but it needs to be followed up with concrete working sessions, that extend many hours where we're all locked in a room, occasionally thrown something to eat, until we reach agreement on some of the very big issues facing us."
But others, namely House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, have said Obama's merely making the rounds for the media.
"It didn't come across as terribly charming to me," he said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "The question is, 'Is he going to go out on the campaign trail and start campaigning against us again like he has been since the election?'"
Obama himself has started to admit his new outreach efforts may be too little, too late when it comes to working with House Republicans.
"Ultimately, it may be that the differences are just too wide," he told ABC News. "It may be that, ideologically, if their position is, 'We can't do any revenue' or 'We can only do revenue if we gut Medicare or gut Social Security or gut Medicaid;' if that's the position, then we're probably not going to be able to get a deal."
Politically, both sides stand to lose if nothing is accomplished on the top issues. Congress already suffers from historically low approval rates and the president has also slipped from his postelection bump to below 50 percent in recent days.
Obama met with Senate Democrats Tuesday and is returning to the hill to meet with Republican lawmakers and House Democrats Wednesday and Thursday.