The Awkward Post-Election White House Lunch President Obama and congressional leaders have lunch on Friday, after an election that saw power shift to the Republicans. If history is a guide, they'll come out and describe it using polite terms.

The Awkward Post-Election White House Lunch

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today's meeting at the White House is actually a lunch. This sort of sit-down after an election that changes the balance of power in Congress has become a tradition, an awkward one. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey, Mitch, can you pass the biscuits? And while you're at it, what about tax reform? Oh, who are we kidding? They probably don't serve buttery biscuits at this White House. And we may never find out exactly what President Obama and congressional Republicans discuss over lunch. But if history is a guide, they'll come out and describe it using polite terms.

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NEWT GINGRICH: I thought it was a very positive meeting.

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REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: We both extended the hand of friendship.

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PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I would call it a very constructive and very friendly conversation.

KEITH: Those were former House Speakers Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi, and former President George W. Bush after similar post-election get-togethers.

SHEILA BURKE: Kumbaya with an edge.

KEITH: Sheila Burke was chief of staff to Bob Dole when he became majority leader of the Senate in 1994 and had his own White House meeting with Gingrich and President Bill Clinton.

BURKE: There's no question that there's always some awkwardness when there's been opposition or bitterness in the past. But these are folks who are professionals and people who, you know, at the heart of it, want to legislate.

KEITH: These meetings happen behind closed doors. And she says they can be frank. The president doesn't want to wave a white flag and give up on his agenda. But the new majority has an agenda of its own and a mandate from voters. Bob Dole spoke at the microphones in the White House driveway after his meeting with Clinton.

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BOB DOLE: I think the president understands that we're going to hit the ground running.

KEITH: It was contentious at first, but ultimately they did come together, most notably on welfare reform. When Nancy Pelosi went to the White House in 2006, President Bush congratulated her on becoming the first female speaker of the House.

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BUSH: The congresswoman's party won, but the challenges still remain.

KEITH: Pelosi told Bush to expect a raft of bills from the Democratic Congress, including one to raise the minimum wage.

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PELOSI: We've made history. Now we have to make progress.

KEITH: Bush signed those bills into law cementing what John Lawrence says was a solid working relationship. Lawrence was Pelosi's chief of staff. He says the strength of that relationship was proven in 2008 during the financial crisis when at Bush's request, Pelosi pushed through the financial industry rescue known as TARP.

JOHN LAWRENCE: That level of trust and collaboration could not have been constructed if there had not been a harmonious working relationship, notwithstanding policy differences.

KEITH: There are plenty of policy differences for Obama to discuss with the GOP leaders at lunch this afternoon from Obamacare to immigration. But in an interview with All Things Considered, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough seemed optimistic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

DENIS MCDONOUGH: Judging from the conversations that he, the president, has been having and many of us have been having with our colleagues up on the Hill, I think it should be a productive session.

KEITH: No word on whether any biscuits or Kentucky bourbon will be on the menu. Tamara Keith. NPR News.

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