If congressional leaders are expecting President Barack Obama to be their newest bud during his second term, they will be sadly disappointed.
Obama told a news conference Monday that it's wrong to believe his keeping a distance from legislators is hindering compromise, as some Washington veterans argue. And he was skeptical that schmoozing would ever make much difference in the capital's current environment of polarization and partisanship.
"The reason that, you know, in many cases, Congress votes the way they do or talks the way they talk or takes positions...that they take, it doesn't have to do with me," he said. "It has to do with the imperatives that they feel in terms of their own politics, right? They're worried about their district. They're worried about what's going on back home. I think there are a lot of Republicans at this point that feel that, given how much energy has been devoted in some of the media that's preferred by Republican constituencies to demonize me, that it doesn't look real good socializing with me."
Obama said if Americans "reject sort of uncompromising positions or sharp partisanship or always looking out for the next election, and they reward folks who are trying to find common ground, then I think you'll see behavior in Congress change. And that will be true whether I'm the life of the party or a stick-in-the-mud."
Asked by a reporter if he and his staff are "too insular" and whether he doesn't "socialize enough." Obama said, "With respect to this truism about me not socializing enough and patting folks on the back and all that stuff, most people who know me know I'm a pretty friendly guy. And I like a good party. And you know, the truth is that, you know, when I was in the Senate, I had great relationships over there, and up until the point that I became president, this was not an accusation that you heard very frequently."
His critics say that's the problem — he has cut himself off from the process of building relationships as president.
He conceded he might change his tune as his daughters get older and become more independent. "Personal relationships are important," he said, "and obviously I can always do a better job, and the nice thing is that now that my girls are getting older, they don't want to spend that much time with me anyway. So I'll be probably calling around looking for somebody to play cards with or something, OK, because I'm getting kind of lonely in this big house." He appeared to be joking.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Facebook and Twitter.