White House warms to showdown with Senate GOP 

White House officials believe President Obama's recent meeting with House Republicans went so well they want to send him back for more, this time with GOP senators.

"The president enjoyed the give-and-take," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. "I think the two biggest things that are on people's minds in this country are creating jobs and two parties working together."

Obama last week followed up his State of the Union address with a heavily hyped question-and-answer session with Republican House members in Baltimore on their annual retreat.

To maximize coverage of the rare event, the White House asked the Republicans to open the meeting to media coverage -- something Gibbs said the White House will push for at Obama's as-yet unscheduled session with senators.

Though little of substance came from last week's confab, the event was widely hailed as good political move by both sides. For the administration, which has seen Obama's key agenda items stall in a sharply divided Congress, there was little to lose.

"Everything in politics now to most people looks so phony, and indeed it is set up and spun -- so whenever something comes along with the crack of spontaneity, it tends to play pretty well," said Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution.

Some critics of the event said afterward that the president appeared diminished by the exchange, which featured pert questioning by Republican House members of limited seniority. Hess said such events are a new reality for the presidency.

"It was largely cosmetic," Hess said. "But at this point ... wasn't Obama just interviewed on YouTube?"

A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 93 percent of Americans believe there is too much partisan fighting in Washington and very little cooperation.

For the White House in an election year, creating a little political theater with Republicans has limited down side if it shows Obama is willing to listen.

"I think we can show the American people that we hear their anger and frustration and demonstrate it in a way that moves the process forward by working together," Gibbs said.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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