The White House is throwing cold water on the idea that President Obama should be schmoozing more with members of Congress.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says socializing with the legislators won't do much to advance the nation's agenda. "The notion that you can solve all problems over a cocktail is I think a little overrated," Carney told reporters. He was apparently referring to the hard-edged partisan bitterness in Washington that has made compromise so difficult.
The socializing theme came up when Carney was asked about the suggestion by writer Jon Meacham that Obama emulate Thomas Jefferson by doing more entertaining, such as by having legislators over to the White House for dinner or drinks. Meacham argued in a New York Times op-ed essay Sunday that Jefferson socialized to get to know both his adversaries and allies better, and this helped him govern more effectively. Jefferson served as president from 1801 to 1809.
But Carney was skeptical. "I think that the reality of modern-day Washington is a little different than it was in 1801," he said. He's right about that.
In the past, White House officials have noted that Obama needs to set priorities with his time, and the president prefers to be with his wife and daughters as much as possible. He generally has dinner with them and spends evenings and weekends with them. This makes it more difficult to schedule regular socializing with members of Congress, or, for that matter, journalists, business leaders, and others.
Carney added that Obama will continue to court the legislators in a businesslike way, such as by holding meetings with them at the White House and having his aides keep open the lines of communication.
Obama also wants to travel more extensively outside the capital. "Engaging with not just the denizens of Washington but with the broader American public is very important to him," Carney said.
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 or on Facebook and Twitter.