Obama, Republican leaders to seek elusive common ground in White House meeting

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 02, 2016 10:38 AM

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Tuesday will meet with a frequent critic, House Speaker Paul Ryan, on Tuesday, as the political leaders look for areas where they may be able to overcome partisan divisions.

In a rare public detente, the Democratic president will hold his first formal face-to-face meeting with Ryan since the Wisconsin congressman took over the top post in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives in October after John Boehner of Ohio stepped down.

The get-together is scheduled to take place in the Oval Office at 11:15 a.m. ET (1615 GMT) and will also include the Republican-controlled Senate's majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

While the White House has pointed to several areas where it believes the White House and Congress may be able to find common ground during Obama's last year in office, the search for compromise will likely prove elusive.

Known as the architect of conservative budget plans that sought to slash social safety net programs and cut tax rates for the wealthy, Ryan has been critical of Obama's executive actions on immigration reform, gun control and the administration's decision to halt coal leasing on public lands.

Ryan was part of the losing bid to unseat Obama in the 2012 election, when he was Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's running mate.

Increasingly overshadowed by the race for his successor, Obama has attacked Republicans for not putting forward their own policies that would help middle- and working-class families.

But, Obama has stressed that Congress may still be able to make progress on certain issues, including reforming mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenses and addressing an epidemic of heroin addiction and prescription drug abuse.

The White House on Monday said the leaders will likely also discuss ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and providing tools to help address Puerto Rico's fiscal crisis, as well as the administration's push to advance cancer treatment.

"These are all things that Republicans independently say are priorities for them," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at a briefing.

Obama and Ryan are also slated to have lunch together at the White House after the Oval Office gathering, where the leaders are expected to discuss similar topics, according to Earnest.

(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)