Obama Hosts Lawmakers at White House Picnic

Members of Congress lined up near a fire pit on the South Lawn on Tuesday to eat Northwest-style salmon while others chomped down on Midwest-style hot dogs.

It was all part of the White House's annual congressional picnic, and this year the event featured foods from regions across the country for a "Tastes of the States" theme.

President Barack Obama, standing next to first lady Michelle Obama, told lawmakers he wanted to thank them for their "incredible devotion to the country, regardless of party." As part of the event, every member of Congress is invited, along with their families.

Obama said the nation has seen a tough few years and "that's meant that Congress has had to do more on a whole range of issues." The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico means more pressure to work together and with the administration to dealing with the crisis, he said.

Under blues skies, members of Congress milled about the South Lawn and joined their families at picnic tables scattered across the backyard of the White House.

Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., stood in line for a Northwestern specialty of salad and salmon, cooked and smoked in a pit yards away from him. He said he came so he could be "part of the tradition."

"I'd like to meet the president if possible," Brown said in an interview, adding that he had only met Obama briefly at a luncheon so far.

Asked if he'd thought the annual picnic could resolve some issues among lawmakers, Brown said: "This doesn't help or hurt. It's just another step in learning more about your colleagues and their families and their concerns."

Also attending the picnic were Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Ben Nelson, D-Neb. Administration officials at the event included Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The White House didn't provide attendance figures. Some lawmakers may have stayed home to monitor primary elections in 12 states Tuesday night. Across town, Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg was making his major league debut before a sold-out crowd.

Last year, the Obama White House turned its first congressional picnic into a Hawaiian luau, in celebration of the president's home state.