Analysis: GOP to Obama: Kiss Our Grits

Michael H. Cottman | 11/22/2010, 11:13 a.m.

Once again, President Barack Obama has extended an olive branch to House Republicans, and, predictably, GOP leaders turned their backs on Obama, abruptly refusing to meet with America's first black president.

"President Obama invited Republicans to the White House, and they blew him off," Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) said in a statement Wednesday.

Cummings is absolutely right.

Shortly after Republicans took control of the House during this month's mid-term elections, Obama invited the new GOP leadership to the White House in the spirit of bi-partisan discussions about moving the country forward. But Republican leaders dismissed Obama's overtures and accused the president of being disingenuous.

The Republican leadership - led by Speaker of the House-elect Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) - said "scheduling conflicts" prevented them from meeting with Obama, adding they're just too busy getting themselves organized. (Truth be told, the GOP is probably very busy planning a strategy in an effort to oust Obama in 2012.)

Whatever their reasoning, canceling on Obama at the last minute was disrespectful to the president - and just plain rude. It was also strategically orchestrated, a not-so-subtle message to Obama: We're in control now. Don't call us; we'll call you.

Karen Finney, a Democratic political strategist, called on House Republicans to "man up."

"Once again, the Republicans have shown that they have no respect for the presidency or the American people," Finney told BlackAmericaWeb.com Wednesday. "When the president invites you to sit down and talk, you make the time to do it."

"What could be more important than meeting with the president to discuss American jobs?" Finney asked. "Apparently protecting their fragile male egos and playing political games is more important than putting petty grudges aside and getting to work. Man up, fellas. Everyone in Washington knows that 'scheduling conflict' is D.C. speak for 'talk to the hand,' so you aren't fooling anyone with that lame excuse."

At the White House on Thursday, aides to Obama were hopeful that a meeting with the president and Republican leaders will take place on Nov. 30.

"We're optimistic," one White House aide told BlackAmericaWeb.com.

He added: "The president has consistently had an open-door policy with the Republican leadership."

But while Republicans say they don't trust Obama, the White House is trying to change that perception. "The president is interested in exchanging ideas," the aide said.

The White House is also frustrated by repeated attempts by Republicans to twist the truth and rewrite history. The GOP, for example, has suggested that Obama "ambushed" them at their retreat in January in Baltimore - where he answered all of their questions in a televised session that made the Republicans look petty and unimpressive - by showing up unannounced.

The White House on Thursday disputed those claims.

"The president didn't just show up for the retreat; it doesn't work that way," one White House aide said. "The president was invited by Republicans."

While it's true that Republicans could stall much of Obama's legislative agenda over the next two years, the refusal by Boehner to meet with the president Thursday was seen by many black Democrats as disrespecting Obama.

"When the president calls and asks a member of Congress to meet at the White House, you go," Cummings said. "You put down everything else. You cancel all your other appointments, and you go. This is the leader of the free world and the commander-in-chief of our nation. You do not say, 'Let's reschedule.'"

Why shouldn't Boehner meet with the president? In fact, Boehner could claim the high road by meeting with Obama if he was thinking rationally.

On Wednesday, House Republicans officially elected Boehner as their nominee for speaker of the House. And Democrats elected Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California as House minority leader.

Obama scheduled a meeting with congressional leaders on Thursday hoping for a compromise on the Bush tax cuts that expire at the end of the year. Obama wants to let the tax cuts run out on family income above $250,000 per year; Republicans want to extend the cuts for all income.

In postponing the meeting, Boehner accused the president of blocking the GOP agenda, but Cummings, who was clearly frustrated, called Republicans deceitful.

"Minority Leader Boehner and Republicans in Congress are misleading the American people about their interest in bipartisanship and should be ashamed," Cummings said.

It's unclear when Obama will actually sit down with the new Republican leadership, but in the meantime, Obama should not offer the GOP anymore olive branches - or change his schedule to accommodate them.