WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama sought Thursday to retake the political initiative after a bruising election, inviting Republican and Democratic congressional leaders to meet with him on the economy and jobs. The White House said Obama would consider extending Bush-era tax cuts even for upper income Americans for a year or two.
The Nov. 18 meeting will be closely watched, in particular, for any signs of cooperation between Obama and his two frequent Republican antagonists, incoming House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
They will be joined by the top Democrats in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Four other lawmakers will attend: Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia and Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, Republicans, and Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, Democrats.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said no staff would take part in the meeting, which will include dinner. Gibbs said he expects the meeting to be the first of many.
While the White House said the date of the meeting was set, McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said the date and time were still being worked out. Stewart said McConnell is "encouraged" by the chance to meet with Obama to discuss issues including trade, reducing spending and increasing domestic energy production.
But McConnell himself threw down the gauntlet, taking a confrontational tone in a speech to the conservative-oriented Heritage Foundation. He called for Senate votes to repeal or erode Obama's signature health care law, to cut spending and to shrink government.
"The only way to do all these things it is to put someone in the White House who won't veto any of these things," McConnell said. He also said that Obama would have to move toward GOP positions on critical issues if he wants to save his agenda.
Gibbs said Thursday that extending tax cuts permanently for upper income earners "is something the president does not believe is a good idea" but that Obama would be open to the possibility.