Obama urged senators to hold off on a proposed Iran sanctions bill
that many support — and which he has vowed to veto. The White House
has said the legislation would derail an international deal to curb
Iran's nuclear program.
But the discussion on sanctions was a small part of a meeting with a
decidedly upbeat tone, a Senate aide said, speaking on background.
Obama, not known for his tendency to schmooze, sat on a stool with a
microphone in the ornate East Room of the White House, giving brief
remarks before taking questions from senators for about 90 minutes.
"The group discussed their shared goals for 2014, and the president
expressed his desire to continue to work together to advance a
number of our priorities for the year to strengthen our economy,
create jobs and build the middle class," the White House said in a
brief statement about the closed-door session.
The meeting comes as Obama's favorability ratings continue to
languish after the botched launch of his signature Obamacare
healthcare reforms last year.
Criticism of the rough start has ebbed after the White House led
frantic efforts to fix the website used to sign up for health
insurance. But the fallout from that and continuing attacks by
Republicans on the Affordable Care Act has made Democrats nervous
about the midterm elections.
A group of 16 Senate Democrats will be defending their seats in
November, and Republicans are aiming to gain six seats to try to
take control of the 100-seat chamber.
At a Republican briefing on Tuesday, officials told reporters they
are intent on centering their campaign around Obama's weak approval
numbers and the problems with Obamacare — factors they are confident
will help them gain seats.
Conservative activists have backed a
$2.5 million television ad campaign against three Democratic
senators over Obamacare, including North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan.
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Republicans have also sought to highlight examples of divisions
between Obama and Democratic lawmakers. For example, they publicized
that Hagan chose to stay in Washington on Wednesday instead of
traveling to her home state of North Carolina with Obama, who was
there to talk about manufacturing.
Obama has had trouble working with Congress, but has beefed up his
White House staff with people known for expertise in nurturing
strong relationships on Capitol Hill.
He wants to press Congress to boost the minimum wage — a mission
that polls well, casting Democrats in a favorable light relative to
Republicans, who are likely to kill the measure because they control
the House of Representatives.
But Obama and his top aides have acknowledged that they are unlikely
to get major legislation through the divided Congress.
Obama has brought in John Podesta, a chief of staff to former
President Bill Clinton, to help the White House advance actions he
can take without Congressional approval.
Those plans will be highlighted in Obama's State of the Union
address on January 28.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan; editing by Eric Walsh)
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