President Obama is hoping his second date with congressional Republicans will be more productive than the first.
The president on Wednesday will host GOP senators at the White House for a dinner that coincides with the release of Obama's 2014 budget proposal, a plan Republicans are already criticizing. Beyond the budget, Obama and lawmakers will discuss other elements of the president's second-term agenda, including gun control legislation that would expand background checks for gun buyers and immigration reforms that would provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrants now living illegally in the U.S.
The dinner may prove awkward, however. The president will be breaking bread and seeking cooperation from many of the same Republicans he was blasting just two days earlier for threatening a filibuster to block a vote on gun legislation.
"He seems to want it both ways," Republican strategist Brian Donahue said of Obama's outreach strategy. "One day he will blast Republicans, and the next day he'll claim he wants to reach across the aisle. He has spent the last four years talking about changing Washington rather than doing it."
This is the second time Obama is sharing a meal with the opposition. Last month he picked up the dinner tab for himself and a group of Republican senators at the Jefferson Hotel, but there was little indication that the goodwill helped him on Capitol Hill.
The dinner is being organized by Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who will be joined by Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, among others. Isakson's office said it would release the complete guest list on Wednesday.
Isakson framed the meeting as "no holds barred" exchange, saying the White House did not set an agenda for the conversations.
Still, the White House said Obama does intend to press Republicans to vote on background checks for gun buyers and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammo magazines, which are key provisions of his gun control agenda.
"I don't think the president will be shy about expressing his views on this matter," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Another White House official said Obama on Tuesday was calling around to Republican and Democratic senators looking for support for background checks.
Some Republicans quickly dismissed the dinner as a public relations ploy to make Obama look bipartisan.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus noted the budget cutting now underway and offered to buy pizza for the group. He said it was inappropriate for Obama to be hosting such lavish meals after shutting down public tours of the White House because of budget woes.
But others said the event was more than just symbolism, noting the repeated criticism that Obama received in his first term for not engaging with Capitol Hill as frequently as his predecessors.
"Obama certainly didn't make much of an effort to cultivate the other party -- and it was resented," said Stephen Hess, a former adviser to Presidents Ford and Carter. "I don't think it ever settles anything, but it's the way that serious people, given serious responsibilities, should act."