Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 9, 2016

Being President Is No Picnic, but No Picnic Isn’t Very Presidential

Mark 3:14 p.m. Monday as the moment when President Barack Obama’s always-overhyped congressional charm offensive was officially called to a halt.

That was when the president’s legislative affairs staff dispatched a curt and totally unapologetic email informing every senator and House member that one of their two guaranteed invitations to the White House for the year had been rescinded.

The congressional picnic, an annual right of early summer for more than three decades, has been postponed indefinitely.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to reschedule this event for September,” was all the hope the email offered. “Thank you.”

No official reason was given, although administration officials only magnified the slight with their backchannel explanation.

The move had nothing to do with the sequester, they asserted defensively, remembering all the lawmaker annoyance after blaming the across-the-board cuts at the Secret Service for the cancellation, at least through September, of White House tours. (Some disgruntled members proposed keeping the tours by cutting the presidential entertainment budget.)

Instead, aides offered, the decision had everything to do with the already overstuffed presidential schedule.

But what that means is that — whether because of West Wing disdain or East Wing incompetence — nobody penciled in the picnic for a weeknight in June before it was too late.

To many lawmakers, it matters not at all which staffers are to blame. Either by commission or omission, they’ve been dissed by the president once again.

And this is a snub they’ll likely remember long after the president’s second-term agenda has been dispatched.

No White House tours might make life a tiny bit more politically difficult for the relative handful of members looking to a tough re-election campaign, because the tickets are one of the few sort-of-cool perks they can deliver to school groups in electorally competitive communities, or to corporate executives and pastors who backed their opponent last time.

No dinner at the Jefferson Hotel might have stung a few senators, as well, because the White House signaled it was only inviting potential members of the “common sense caucus” — members of both parties who might be persuaded to avoid reflexive partisanship now and again.

But no picnic? That will hit many House members and senators right where they live — or, more accurately, right where they don’t live as often as they might like.

The party has been a hallowed event for many congressional schedulers — a rare occasion for the member to bring the spouse and the kids to town for a weeknight flavored with special Washington glamour and history and without any campaign money panhandling at all.

Obama seemed to understand this, and at the congressional picnics he’s hosted, he always made a point of thanking the families for making the sacrifices of the political life.

“The birthday parties that get missed, or the soccer games that you’re late to, the travel that keeps you away from your loved ones, all of that obviously is in service of our country,” he said to last June’s throng, gathered on the South Lawn in their pressed chino shorts, gingham shirts and bright linen sleeveless dresses. “We are thrilled you have at least one day where you get a chance to be together in Washington and nobody’s arguing.”

That party — featuring six different kinds of barbecue — happened with everyone knowing the Supreme Court would announce its health care ruling the next morning and with House Republicans about to push through a measure holding Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt. But White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that the president never thought about canceling such “a great American tradition.”

That was so election-year. Safely ensconced for his second term, Obama apparently sees no problem anymore in dispatching with a night’s worth of compulsory congressional pleasantries. Working to expand his extraordinarily modest network of Hill contacts — “the smallest Rolodex ever when he hit town,” as the Democratic dean of the House, John D. Dingell, put it last week — is manifestly no longer worth his time.

  • Guy

    WTF?!?! You damned politician piss me off to no end! At a time when you bastards are complaining about the debt, are taking away SNAP from middle and lower income people, cutting Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid, taking children’s school lunch when they are SHORT on their lunch account, wanting to change the Social Security annual Cost-Of-Living Adjustment to a system that will SYSTIMATICALLY DECREASE OUR COLA EACH YEAR. Yelling about “we have to cut spending”, you SOBS are complaining that your precious little BBQ has been POSTPONED?

    I received the following announcement in my NoLabels newsletter:

    PICNIC POSTPONED:President Barack Obama announced the congressional picnic this year is postponed indefinitely. The cancellation comes from a scheduling conflict and has nothing to do with sequestration, according to White House officials. The event is “a rare occasion for the member to bring the spouse and the kids to town for a weeknight flavored with special Washington glamour and history and without any campaign money panhandling at all,” according to David Hawkings, who adds that the cancellation could damage Obama’s relationships with members of Congress: David Hawkings for Roll Call: Being President Is No Picnic, but No Picnic Isn’t Very Presidential

    You idiots can’t agree on a budget, the gridlock in DC is OBNOXIOUSLY ENTRENCHED, SOME of you have declared that the President’s agenda will NOT be approved as long as he is in office. You CONTINUALLY SIDE WITH big business interests instead of taking measures to protect the American citizen’s health. You blame President Obama for the DEBT/DEFICIT THAT G. W. BUSH CREATED by borrowing money from COMMUNIST CHINA to support the ill-conceived Gulf Wars.

    I don’t think EITHER SIDE OF THE AISLE, OR SIDE OF DC, are really serious about “cutting spending.” If you were, you would accept the fact that the cost of this PICNIC is an UN-NECCESARY expense. How much is this little PICINIC going to cost the TAXPAYER? SIX varieties of BBQ….REALLY? How much is going to cost the TAXPAYER for the transportation of YOUR families to bring them to DC for ONE NIGHT OF FRIVOLITY? Really? And you quibble over SNAP (FOOD) benefits for middle/lower income families in this country? You want to cut funds for the Veterans Administration to provide health care to the brave men and women who put their lives and limbs in danger so you can have a GOD-DAMNED PICNIC!?!? REALLY?

    With all the obstructionist activity and gridlock in BOTH CHAMBERS… don’t deserve a damned picnic! The ONLY thing you deserve is to be VOTED OUT OF OFFICE and prosecuted for dereliction of duty to the American people.!

    • Felonious Grammar

      I second that, Guy. Thank you. It’s the POTUS who’s acting like an adult; and Congress that’s acting like young, unruly toddlers. I don’t know what to call most pundits these days, but “lazy” and “Heathers” is descriptive enough.

      • Guy

        Felonious Grammar, thanks for your response. I haven’t been able to find “lazy” or “Heathers” description of pundits. Can you send them to me please? Thanks

        • Felonious Grammar

          The “laziness”, I think, is self-evident— like the fact that so many reporters and pundits too often say things like, “there is disagreement in Washington” when the disagreement they’re talking about is actually going on between Republicans and Democrats in the House over a very specific difference, for instance, and is not, in fact, some vague geological something-or-other.

          For the definition of “Heathers” see the 1988 movie with Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. The “Heathers” are the most popular girls in their high school — they’re rich, beautiful, and mean. They are superficial, hateful, and enjoy destroying persons they think are weak or not mercenary enough. They all have the first name “Heather”. (I don’t know if these are scare quotes, or what, I’m using.)

          If you like dark comedy, you’ll love “Heathers,” and I think you’ll see what I mean.

          • Guy

            Thank you. That explains it. I didn’t see the movie.

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