Obama pushes back on criticism regarding social outreach to Congress
President says some view him as being cool when he's just trying to preserve family time
President Barack Obama pushed back on criticism that he has not reached out enough to members of Congress socially to help build more personal relationships.
"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 the truth is when I was in the Senate, I had great relationships over there, and up until that point that I became president this was not an accusation that you heard very frequently," the president said at his news conference Monday.
He said some Republicans feel that it doesn't "look real good socializing with me."
Some Congressional Democrats have complained privately to Dana Bash, CNN's senior congressional correspondent, that the president also has not done enough outreach to members of his own party to help build relationships. Members of both parties have said they would like to see the president invite over small groups for intimate dinners that would help build his congressional bonds.
"I promise you, we invite folks from Congress over here all the time. And when they choose to come, I enjoy their company. Sometimes they don't choose to come, and that has to do with the fact that I think they don't consider the optics useful for them politically," Obama said.
He admitted, though, "I can always do a better job."
In an effort to push back on the criticism the president has not done enough outreach, especially with regards to socializing with Republicans, a Democratic source provided to CNN a list of times Republican members of Congress did not accept invitations to White House events, such as receptions and a Super Bowl viewing.
House Speaker John Boehner did not accept invitations to state dinners for Great Britain, South Korea, Germany, China, Mexico and India, according to the source.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also did not accept some White House invitations, according to the Democratic source, including to a couple of state dinners and to a celebration of the University of Kentucky's basketball championship. A spokesman for McConnell responded that the senator was unable to go to these specific events because "he was in Kentucky with his constituents." He was also invited to a screening of the movie "Lincoln," but the Senate was in session at the time.
A spokesman for Boehner did not respond to a request for a comment.
The president has previously said he prefers to spend as much time as possible during the evenings with his daughters to help preserve family time. In a lighter tone, noting that his daughters are getting older and that they might not want to spend as much time with him, he said that he be able to reach out more.
"So I'll probably be calling around, looking for somebody to play cards with me or something, because I'm getting kind of lonely in this big house. So maybe a whole bunch of members of the House of Representatives caucus want to come over and socialize more," the president said.
In an interview in August with Jessica Yellin, CNN's chief White House correspondent, Obama also talked about possibly having more time to reach out to Congress because of his daughters growing up.
"I served, obviously in Congress with a lot of the folks who are up there and had a great relationship with them. And my hope is that getting past this election people will have an opportunity to maybe step back and say, 'You know what? The differences that divide us aren't as important as the common bonds we have as Americans.' "
He added: "Some of that I'm sure will require additional effort on my part. Hopefully, we'll see more effort on the other side as well."
He also described how he and his wife have been reluctant to hit the social circuit in Washington because of the family.
"Sometimes Michelle and I not doing the circuit and going out to dinners with folks is perceived as us being cool. It actually really has more with us being parents. The fact is that you know we're the first family occupying the White House in a long time that had young kids," Obama said. "One of the pledges we made was 'You know what? We need to make sure that we're good parents and - and we're there for our kids.'"
He said he wants to be at the dinner table at 6:30, and sometimes on the weekends, they would turn down invitations "because we're trying to carve out family time." He added, "I think that's sometimes interpreted as, you know, me not wanting to, you know be out there slapping backs and wheeling and dealing. That really has more to do with just the stage we are in our lives."
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