President Obama is shown during the final news conference of his first term. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty…)
WASHINGTON -- President Obama insists he’s a “pretty friendly guy” but made clear Monday that he’s skeptical that personal relationships with members of Congress have much to do with whether legislation passes.
“I like Speaker [John] Boehner personally. When we went out and played golf, we had a great time. But that didn’t get a deal done in 2011,” Obama said in response to a reporter’s question about whether he is too “insular” in his relationships.
“When I’m over here at the congressional picnic and folks are coming up and taking pictures with their family, I promise you Michelle and I are very nice to them and we have a wonderful time. But that doesn’t prevent them from going on the floor of the House and blasting me for being a big-spending socialist,” he said at a White House news conference.
“The reason that, you know, in many cases, Congress votes the way they do, or talks the way they talk, or takes positions and negotiations that they take -- it doesn't have to do with me, 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.”
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Sometimes Republican members of Congress worry that being seen as “too chummy” with the president might lead to their being challenged in a primary, he added.
The degree to which personal relationships matter in Washington has been under debate for years. The idea that relationships do matter pervades a lot of journalism in the capital. Many political scientists, by contrast, have expressed doubts, noting that members of Congress, as Obama said, tend to vote in line with the opinions of their districts.
Those who argue in favor of relationships point to historical examples of presidents such as Lyndon B. Johnson, who mastered the science of manipulating the egos of congressmen and senators. Those on the other side of the debate note that while the country had many deep divisions in Johnson’s day, partisan lines were far more fluid than they are now.
Obama’s response to the question had a defensive tone. “Most people who know me, I’m a pretty friendly guy -- and I like a good party,” he said, adding “up until the point that I became president, this is not an accusation that you heard very frequently.”
Moreover, he said, as his daughters become teenagers and spend less time with their parents, he’s “kind of lonely in this big house.”
“I’ll be probably calling around looking for somebody to play cards with me or something,” he said. "Maybe a whole bunch of members of the House Republican caucus want to come over and socialize more.”
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Obama also pushed back against criticisms over the lack of diversity in his administration’s recent appointments, suggesting that more diverse choices may follow the recent spate of high-profile posts going to white men, including Cabinet nominees John Kerry for State, Chuck Hagel for Defense and Jacob J. Lew for Treasury.
“If you think about the first four years, the person who had the most influence on my foreign policy was a woman,” Obama said, later highlighting the work of Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and a White House staff half-composed of women.
“Until you’ve seen what my overall team looks like, it’s premature to assume that we’re going backward. We’re not going backward, we’re going forward,” Obama added.