White House cancels annual picnic with lawmakers amid Syria crisis

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 11, 2013 8:36 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House said Wednesday it had canceled its summer picnic for members of Congress and their families - an annual opportunity for the president and lawmakers to set aside partisan sniping in favor of music and food.

The decision was made quietly last week as the administration was dealing with how it would respond to a chemical weapons attack in Syria. At the time it looked like Congress would be occupied with debating whether to approve President Barack Obama's plan for military strikes.

Traditionally held by presidents in June as a lighthearted way to thank lawmakers for their public service, this year's picnic was postponed to September when the calendar became too cluttered with Obama's trips to the G8 summit in Northern Ireland and a week-long visit to Africa.

"The president and Mrs. Obama look forward to welcoming members of Congress and their immediate families at the Congressional Holiday Ball in December," a White House aide said.

During the past two weeks, Obama and his top officials have had dozens of meetings with lawmakers over the response to the Syrian crisis, both at the White House and on Capitol Hill.

Obama has been criticized for being too insular, with some pundits saying he could help advance his agenda if he invested a little more time socializing with lawmakers.

He has rejected that criticism, telling reporters earlier this year that events like the congressional picnic wouldn't cut through the bitter partisan divide over his policies.

Nevertheless, Obama tried harder this year to spend more time dining with lawmakers and visiting Capitol Hill, trying to find what he called a "caucus of common sense" on fiscal issues.

He even took three senators golfing in May - two Republicans and a Democrat. One of those senators, Republican Bob Corker, of Tennessee, criticized Obama on Wednesday for the way he has handled the response to Syria.

"The president just seems to be very uncomfortable being commander in chief of this nation," Corker said in an interview with CNN. "He's very good in an interpersonal setting; he just cannot follow through."

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)