President Barack Obama came to Capitol Hill just after noon Tuesday to sell his stimulus plan to rank-and-file Republicans in the Senate and House, where the bill will hit the floor on Wednesday. He left with this realistic assessment of how persuasive he had been: "We're not going to get 100 percent agreement. We might not get 50 percent."
The president spoke to a clutch of reporters after emerging from a lunch with Senate Republicans. And though he said that, over time, he has hopes that the two sides will develop a habit of consultation and respect, he acknowledged that "old habits die hard."
Just moments later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky sounded more upbeat, though he made no predictions or promises about how his caucus would treat the $800-plus billion spending bill when it comes to the Senate floor next week.
"The bill as it stands hasn't been seen yet," he said. "We'll see what it looks like when we get to a final vote."
McConnell said that GOP senators and the president "had a very frank exchange of views" and that the caucus appreciated that Obama "stayed awhile."
"Everyone was pleased with the level of candor and the desire to look for bipartisan solutions," he said. "It was a very productive meeting." He suggested that Obama, in addition to Republicans, also has skeptics in his own party he has to win over on the stimulus bill.
Don't Expect Endorsements Soon
GOP Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri said that the president, accompanied by top economic adviser Lawrence Summers, was quizzed about what he planned to do about so-called toxic assets held by banks; how his team would handle the credit crisis; and whether he would look at removing money in the stimulus plan that some Republicans have characterized as tantamount to earmarks, which Obama has banned.
"It spends a lot of money on things that have been thrown in at the last minute," Bond said, mentioning funds for a high-speed rail line and aid to economically distressed states like California.
"We thanked him for coming in and talking about it," Bond said. "But I wouldn't expect anyone to endorse the stimulus package now."
Tuesday's visits with Republican Senate and House members highlighted the extraordinary outreach Obama has engaged in to move his first major legislative effort through Congress, and quickly.
His presence on the Hill drew heavy security and a massive turnout of reporters and photographers, many of whom shuttled between the two wings of the Capitol to catch the president as he emerged from his meetings.
The visit came on a day when the Congressional Budget Office reported that the stimulus plan, with interest, could cost more than $1.172 trillion.
Up Next: The House
Although formerly a member of the Senate — though he spent two years of his nearly four-year tenure on the campaign trail — Obama at least twice had to be guided by aides: first to a microphone he had walked past, then to the LBJ Room after his meeting with senators. "I never know where I'm going anymore," he joked with reporters after the GOP Senate lunch.
But in his comments before and after his closed-door meetings, Obama stressed what he called the urgency of the stimulus plan and his desire to "keep politics to a minimum" while dealing with legitimate policy differences among members of Congress. His visit with Republican House members came just hours after House Minority Leader John Boehner instructed members to oppose the bill.
"The American people expect action," Obama said to the gathered media, and then he referred to the stimulus package as one leg of a multi-leg stool.
And there will certainly be action on the House floor on Wednesday, when the stimulus bill is debated, and next week, when it is expected to be taken up by the Senate.
"I think everybody on our side is pleased with the interaction with the new administration," McConnell said as Obama made his way back to the White House.
Whether that translates to Republicans in any number joining the Democratic majorities in both houses to support the president's plan remains to be seen. But the prospects, despite Tuesday's outreach, did not appear rosy.