Evidence that the Obama charm offensive is starting to pay legislative dividends becomes available by comparing three lists: the 12 GOP senators who dined with the president last week, the 12 others whom Obama treated to supper a month ago, and the 16 Republicans who voted Thursday to begin debating gun violence legislation.
Among that last group of 16, all but three had attended one of those dinners, where the Senate guests were chosen mainly for their perceived willingness to entertain ideas for a budget deal.
Nine senators were guests in March at the Jefferson Hotel dinner, where the president launched his overt new effort to improve legislative relations:
Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire
Richard M. Burr of North Carolina
Saxby Chambliss of Georgia
Tom Coburn of Oklahoma
Bob Corker of Tennessee
Lindsey Graham of South Carolina
John Hoeven of North Dakota
John McCain of Arizona
Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania
Four more Republican votes he secured from the roster of people he entertained at the White House just 12 hours before the vote:
Lamar Alexander of Tennessee
Susan Collins of Maine
Johnny Isakson of Georgia
Roger Wicker of Mississippi
Maybe the dinner fare had something with it: Senators at the hotel supper had a choice of four appetizers including crab risotto; entrée choices of roasted striped bass, grilled lamb, beef filet or lobster thermidor; and for desert peanut butter crumble, chocolate tart or an “iced Tahitian vanilla and praline bar.” The White House menu, by contrast, was the same for everyone: a relatively pedestrian grilled and sliced ribeye, sautéed vegetables, green salad and coconut sorbet with pineapple.
In any event, it’s impossible to view their cloture votes as a coincidence. It’s more likely that Obama’s good-food-and-candid-conversation strategy has helped him find the baker’s dozen who are most likely to break with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his super-conservative rank-and-file. They won’t vote that way as a group or all of the time, of course. But perhaps enough of them will, especially on the top-tier items that could make or break the president’s second-term legislative legacy.
And the other three senators who voted to advance the gun bill?
Jeff Flake of Arizona
Dean Heller of Nevada
Mark S. Kirk of Illinois
In the immortal words of comedian Red Buttons: They never got a dinner!