WASHINGTON (AP) – The guest list hasn't changed, but President Barack Obama faces a different type of crowd when he meets with congressional leaders on Tuesday.
Obama's sit-down with House and Senate leaders is his first since the new, fully Republican-run Congress was seated last week. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, long Obama's stronghold in the Senate, was demoted by the November elections to minority leader. GOP leader Mitch McConnell, a persistent thorn in Obama's side as minority leader, now has Reid's old job running the upper chamber.
The three were to join House Speaker John Boehner and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi in the Oval Office to discuss opportunities for potential cooperation between Democrats and Republicans this year. Yet it was far from clear that the two parties would be able to overlook their open disagreements on most issues to focus on limited areas of common ground.
Both parties exited the midterms last year speaking optimistically about working together on tax reform, trade promotion and infrastructure development — areas where Obama and Republicans see at least partially eye to eye. But the start of the year has been dominated by familiar battles over the Keystone XL pipeline, Obama's immigration actions and foreign policy.
Over the last two weeks, Obama has repeatedly threatened to veto bills that Republicans have put forward as their top priorities for the new Congress. Still, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said there were a "whole host of things" that Obama could do this year with Republicans.
"It doesn't mean we're gonna agree on everything — certainly we're not," Earnest said. "But the question is, are we going to allow disagreement over a few things to become a deal-breaker for all the others?"
"The president certainly hopes that it won't," he added.
Although the Democratic and Republican leaders from both chambers were invited, it was unclear whether Reid would show. The Nevada Democrat is recovering from an exercise-related injury and his spokesman declined to say whether he planned to attend.