Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Obama and GOP leaders again vow to ‘work together,’ but admit it won’t be easy

Emerging from their first sit-down since Election Day, President Obama and GOP leaders called their White House meeting "productive" and reiterated promises to "work together" on behalf of the American people.

But even as Obama heralded the get-together as a "good start," both sides acknowledged that the true test of bipartisanship lies ahead, as Democrats and Republicans remain strongly divided on issues like an extension of the so-called Bush tax cuts. Obama said that this would be the first of several meetings with him and leadership, including a Camp David retreat.

"None of this is going to be easy," Obama told reporters afterward. "Although the atmosphere in the meeting was extremely civil … there's always going to be political incentive to work against each other, particularly in the current hyper-partisan climate."

In a separate news conference on Capitol Hill after the meeting, incoming House Speaker John Boehner echoed Obama's comments. "We had a very nice meeting today. The question is: Can we find the common ground that the American people expect us to find?"

The meeting, planned to last an hour, ran for nearly two hours. GOP leaders said Obama privately acknowledged that in the most recent Congress he had not reached out to Republicans as much as he should have -- a point he has also made in public interviews. He pledged to work more closely with the opposing party, they said.

"I think spending more time [together] will help us find some common ground," Boehner said.

Both Boehner and Obama, pointing to vast political differences between Democrats and Republicans, said compromise won't be easy. But both sides agree that gridlock in Washington is not helpful to either party, they said.

"Americans did not vote for gridlock, and they will hold all of us — and I mean all of us — accountable for it," Obama said.

In perhaps the only real significant development of the meeting, Obama announced that he had assigned his budget director, Jack Lew, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to begin negotiating with Republicans on an extension of the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of the year. Yet Obama did not signal any change in his position on the issue: He wants to extend the tax cuts for the middle class, whereas Republicans want to make the tax cuts permanent even for the wealthiest Americans.

Even with all the nice talk, there were hints that relations between the GOP and the White House haven't completely lost their edge. Asked whether the GOP would dial down its rhetoric against Obama, the Senate's Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, dodged the question.

Obama told reporters he believes the sit-down will "yield results."

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Inspired by tea party success, Latinos float ‘Tequila Party’ grass-roots movement

Latino leaders in Nevada and around the country are floating the idea of breaking traditional ties with the Democratic Party and creating a grass-roots independent movement tentatively called the Tequila Party. According to Delen Goldberg at the Las Vegas Sun, the leaders want to pressure the Democratic Party to deliver on Latinos' priorities much in the same way the tea party has done with the GOP over the past few years.

Robert de Posada, the former GOP operative behind this fall's controversial "Don't Vote" ads aimed at Latinos in Nevada and California, tells The Lookout that he has heard "rumblings" of this movement among national Latino leaders.

"The Tequila Party is a great concept to basically say, 'You know what? This blind support for you is coming to an end,'" De Posada says. "If you are perceived as someone who will never vote for a Republican, then you're screwed," because Democrats will take you for granted, he says.

[Video: President Clinton: We should all listen to the tea party movement]

In the midterm elections, 64 percent of Latinos voted Democratic, and in Nevada, analysts agree that Latinos' votes were responsible for Sen. Harry Reid's re-election.

Reid promised to bring the DREAM Act -- which would let youths who were brought into the country illegally gain legal status if they join the military or attend college -- to a vote in the current lame-duck session of Congress. But some Democrats, and the vast majority of Republicans, are shunning the legislation, which once garnered significant bipartisan support. Juan Hernandez, Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain's former volunteer director of Hispanic outreach, told reporters Monday that the White House and Democrats are not showing enough leadership on the issue.

Republicans are leading the charge against the legislation. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) claims some criminals will qualify for legalization (which immigration advocates dispute). A weeks-long hunger strike by dozens of University of Texas students has failed to convince Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) to renew her earlier support for the DREAM Act, her spokeswoman says.

The Tequila Party is still just talk for now, as no Latino leader has publicly backed the scheme. But De Posada says their silence makes sense, as they will want to be sure they have a fully formed plan before they risk angering allies in the Democratic Party. "They'd better be prepared when they come out swinging," he says. Frank Sharry of the pro-immigration reform group America's Voice, says he doubts the Tequila Party will ever actually get off the ground. "I do think Democrats should worry because the arguments for the Tequila party are persuasive to me...The frustration is understandable," he says.

It's curious that Latino leaders are looking to the tea party for organizational inspiration, since many tea party groups supported Arizona's tough immigration law and other enforcement measures. More than 85 percent of Hispanics back comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, according to a recent poll, and 80 percent disapprove of Arizona's immigration law.

As some Latinos ponder a symbolic break with the Democratic Party, the GOP is more aggressively trying to attract coveted Latino voters ahead of the presidential election. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is co-sponsoring a conservative Hispanic Forum, which he has publicized this week on his Hispanic issues news website The Americano. According to the forum's agenda, terrorism and national security are a major focus.

[Related: Did tea party have an effect on hit show's results?]

Meanwhile, the American Action Network and American Action Forum -- outside conservative political action committees led by former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) -- have formed the Hispanic Leadership Network, which is co-chaired by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a proponent of comprehensive immigration reform. Coleman told The Lookout that the group will not take an official stand on immigration reform.

The trigger for the Tequila Party may be if Democrats again fail to deliver on comprehensive immigration reform

"It would definitely induce us," Fernando Romero, president of the nonpartisan Hispanics in Politics, told the Sun. "We would have to do something at that point to get ready for 2012."

(Photo of Chicago resident Magda Castaneda protesting the tea party: AP)

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