For lawmakers, it's no picnic at the White House

AP News
Posted: Jun 11, 2013 3:00 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — That annual summer ritual of forced harmony known as the White House congressional picnic? Not going to happen.

The White House Office of Legislative Affairs has notified members of the House and Senate that the event, typically held in June, might be rescheduled for September.

Postponing the popular picnic comes as President Barack Obama has been wining, dining and hobnobbing with select groups of congressional Republicans and Democrats. White House officials say the lack of a picnic shouldn't undercut those outreach efforts.

White House officials said the decision not to hold the event this month was based on the president's schedule, which includes two June overseas trips, not on the budget cuts caused by the so-called sequester that have curtailed other government activities, including White House public tours.

Moreover, Congress is in recess in August, and the White House says July's high temperatures could spoil such an outdoor event.

"June is packed, July is hot, August they're not here," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

The picnic brings lawmakers and their families to the White House's South Lawn where they sample burgers and get photos with the president and first lady Michelle Obama.

But they can also create awkward moments as the president, his aides and Cabinet members mingle with their congressional antagonists during a brief moment of bonhomie. Last year, the picnic was held before two partisan conflicts came to a head — a Supreme Court decision on Obama's signature health care law and a contempt of Congress vote in the House against Attorney General Eric Holder.

This year, it would have come in the middle of a debate over overhauling the nation's immigration laws, Republican investigations into the Internal Revenue Service and vocal GOP criticism of the implementation of the health care law.

That juxtaposition is not lost on Obama, who at a press conference early this year observed that outreach efforts don't often result in long term good will.

"When I'm over here at the congressional picnic and folks are coming up and taking pictures with their family, I promise you, Michelle and I are very nice to them and we have a wonderful time," he joked. "But it doesn't prevent them from going onto the floor of the House and blasting me for being a big-spending socialist."