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October 1, 2014

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Obama’s sitdown with House GOP ‘respectful,’ but sides remain divided

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Barack Obama turns to reporters as he leaves Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 13, 2103, after his closed-door meeting with House Speaker John Boehner and Republican lawmakers to discuss the budget.

President Barack Obama returned to Capitol Hill Wednesday to meet with House Republicans in what had the potential to be the most politically contentious of the four discussions he scheduled with rank-and-file lawmakers this week.

Members who emerged from the meeting — about 10 minutes of comments from the president, followed by about an hour of questions — described it their discussions as “respectful,” “productive” and “promising.”

But did they yield any consensus? Well … not really.

“There are some real differences between our two parties,” House Speaker John Boehner said after emerging from the meeting, held in the basement of the Capitol. “Republicans want to balance the budget. The president doesn’t. Republicans want to solve our long-term debt problem. The president doesn’t. We want to unlock our energy resources to put more Americans back to work. The president doesn’t.”

But several other rank-and-file House Republicans, along with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, emerged from the meeting claiming they saw potential to work together on “low-hanging fruit” issues such as immigration and entitlement reforms.

Obama appealed to Republicans to work with him on immigration, rationalizing that passing a reform bill might benefit Republicans more than Democrats. It’s a conclusion many Republicans came to independently of the president in the wake of the 2012 election, when Democrats in states like Nevada claimed record-setting shares of the Latino voter bloc — one that ranks immigration as a litmus test issue.

The president also resignaled his willingness to discuss changes to entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare — a debate that will necessarily be revived if lawmakers decide to tackle their budgeting issues with a grand-bargain approach.

But there was less enthusiasm when it came to the immediate hurdles posed by a budget for fiscal 2014. Republicans are rallying for the second year in a row around a budget, presented by Rep. Paul Ryan, that advocates revamping Medicare and repealing Obama’s health care law in order to balance the budget in 10 years. According to reports, Obama told the Republicans that balancing the budget was not his chief priority in setting a federal budget.

“While I'm encouraged by this first step, actions always speak louder than words, so I am anxious to see where we go in the days and weeks ahead,” Nevada Rep. Joe Heck said in a statement after the meeting, steering clear of echoing his colleagues on any specifics about issues that had been discussed. "I am hopeful this meeting can be a springboard to future discussions on areas of common ground.”

So is Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei. But he didn’t have much more to add about the president’s summit with the Republicans — because he wasn't there.

Amodei said he showed up 10 minutes late to the meeting and was barred from entering because he hadn't arrived before a security sweep.

“The cops and the League of Cities were in my office … they wouldn’t let anyone in after 1:15 p.m.,” Amodei said, bemoaning the fact that he hadn't arrived until 1:25 p.m., and thus, he said, was kept from entering the meeting room.

The Sun didn’t see Amodei’s attempt, but it also didn’t see any representatives try to get into the chamber late — just a few who left early.

Security on the Capitol grounds is exceptionally tight when the president is coming in and out of the building, with whole floors being shut down inside the Capitol and tourists being barred for several minutes before the president’s motorcade arrives from crossing either the plaza east of the building or the streets directly to the north and south of the Capitol.

Amodei said he got stuck behind one of those barricades a second time, while trying to cross the street from his office in the Cannon House Office Building to the Capitol, to attend a vote immediately after the meeting — while Obama’s motorcade was departing the Capitol.

Had Amodei taken a route through the basement of the Cannon House Office Building, where his office is located, to the Capitol basement, he likely would have been all right. He did eventually make it over in time to vote in favor of a bill to institute work-for-welfare requirements.

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