House Republicans don’t take power for three more weeks, but the White House is already engaged in a behind-the-scenes charm offensive designed to build relationships with incoming committee chairmen before they become powerful adversaries.
The GOP chairmen are getting congratulatory phone calls from President Barack Obama and private meetings with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Attorney General Eric Holder. The incoming Agriculture Committee chairman, Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), is setting up a regular monthly lunch with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The White House’s efforts moved into high gear shortly after the Republican victory on Election Day.
The White House relationship building doesn’t mean that Obama is ready to embrace his fiercest Republican critics on Capitol Hill or automatically capitulate to their demands. (See: GOP taps freshmen for prime spots)
But it does signal that the White House is trying to work the referee a bit before Republican chairmen start sending subpoenas and summoning White House witnesses for committee investigations.
In these meetings, Obama administration officials are promising cooperation and straight dealing with the GOP power players, yet there’s also a public relations and political strategy in play — the White House is seeking political high ground and trying to position the Obama administration as willing to work with Republicans rather than succumb to partisan gridlock.