WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama regrouped over dinner Wednesday with a dozen Democratic senators, attempting to press ahead on tenuous elements of his agenda after suffering a major setback on gun control.
Emerging from a hotel blocks from the White House, two senators said they were not supposed to talk about what was discussed during the dinner, which spanned more than two hours. But the White House said Obama and the senators discussed immigration, the economy and the need for the House and Senate to find a compromise on the budget.
The president also vowed again to put the full weight of the government behind efforts to track down who is responsible for Monday’s twin bombings in Boston that killed three people and injured more than 170 others, the White House said.
“Two thumbs up. Very well,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said of the meeting as he shared after-dinner drinks with Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Michael Bennet of Colorado.
Hours earlier, a visibly exasperated Obama stood with tearful parents of Newtown victims, declaring it a “pretty shameful day for Washington” and lambasting both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate for failing to pass expanded background checks for gun sales — the centerpiece of Obama’s push to reduce gun violence.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said the dinner was “great — very positive,” but she did not offer details.
Asked to elaborate on what topics came up, Bennet demurred. “We talked about not talking about it,” he said.
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington arranged the dinner at Obama’s request, the White House said. Also attending were Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Dianne Feinstein of California, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Chris Coons of Delaware, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.
“It is clear to me that President Obama and Senate Democrats are united in our desire to end the constant lurching from crisis to crisis” on the economy, Murray said in a statement after the dinner, adding that Democrats hope Republicans will join them and offer compromises.
Obama told the senators he will continue the fight for gun-control measures that he started after the December schoolhouse shooting in Connecticut, said a White House official, who was not authorized to discuss the private dinner publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. It remains to be seen whether Democrats in the Senate have any appetite for continuing that push.
None of the senators who dined with Obama was among the handful of rural-state Democrats who voted with a majority of Republicans against the background check bill.
Obama has hosted two similar dinners with Senate Republicans in recent months, part of a broader effort to open the lines of communication with lawmakers and improve prospects for striking a deal on Obama’s other second-term priorities, including an immigration overhaul and a grand bargain on the budget.
Associated Press writer Stacy A. Anderson contributed to this report.