Obama cultivating support across party lines

January 20th, 2009 - 5:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 20 (DPA) US president-elect Barack Obama spent the eve of his Tuesday inauguration dining with several top Republicans in the Democrat’s latest attempt to build bridges with the conservative opposition party.Obama attended three dinners Monday evening with prominent current or retired Republican senators presiding: John Warner, Chuck Hagel and Lindsey Graham.

One of the dinners honoured Senator John McCain, defeated by Obama in the November presidential election after months of hard-fought campaigning. Obama already reached out to his former opponent two weeks after the election, hosting the 72-year-old Arizona Republican for a private meeting in Chicago.

In the weeks since, Obama has reportedly sought McCain’s advice on top national security appointments, including jobs at the Pentagon. McCain remains in the Senate as the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

Monday night at the Washington Hilton, Obama, clad in a black tuxedo with long black tie, praised McCain’s lifetime of service to the United States, first as a Navy fighter pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam and later for more than 25 years in the Congress.

The president-elect hailed “the long list of John’s bipartisan accomplishments” as a senator on such issues as campaign-finance and immigration reform.

“There is no doubt that throughout the summer and the fall, John and I were fierce competitors who engaged in a vigorous and sometimes heated debate over the issues of the day, and in a great democracy, this debate is both healthy and necessary,” Obama said.

“But what is even healthier and more necessary is the recognition that after the season of campaigning has ended, each of us in public life has a responsibility to usher in a new season of cooperation built on those things we hold in common - not as Democrats, not as Republicans, but as Americans,” Obama added.

Later, the president-elect honoured former secretary of state Colin Powell during the night’s second event. Obama previously sought advice from the retired general, who is nominally a Republican. Powell, who rose to the top US military post under the first president George Bush before becoming secretary of state for current President George W. Bush, endorsed Obama’s candidacy.

The third dinner paid respects to vice president-elect Joe Biden, a Democratic senator who was introduced by Hagel.

Obama pledged during the campaign to change partisan politics in Washington and seems to be getting high marks for the effort, particularly for embracing McCain.

“I don’t think there is a precedent for this,” Fred Greenstein, professor-emeritus at Princeton University, told the New York Times. “Sometimes there is bad blood, sometimes there is so-so blood, but rarely is there good blood.”

Earlier this month, Obama joined a dinner party with a group of conservative columnists, including William Kristol, David Brooks, George Will and Charles Krauthammer. Some of them have been among Obama’s toughest critics.

After winning the election, Obama insisted that he would seek a diverse group of advisers. He decided to keep George W. Bush’s defence secretary, Robert Gates, a move that drew praise from both parties as a sign that he intends to meet his campaign promise to bring a prompt but responsible end to the war in Iraq. Obama also picked a Republican congressman to head the transportation department.

Even though Democrats hold majorities in the House and Senate, Obama’s aides met with Republicans to outline the president-elect’s proposed $825 billion spending plan to revive the downtrodden economy.

To appease Republicans, Obama decided not to include language to repeal George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the highest-earning Americans, but the move angered Democrats who want the reductions pulled even before they expire in 2010. Republicans have expressed concerns about the size of the stimulus package, but the criticism has not been with the ferocity usually seen in Washington.

Even Obama, though, seemed to recognise that his “honeymoon” might not last long with the centre-right Republicans, who suddenly find themselves out of power in both the legislative and executive branches for the first time since 1995.

At the McCain dinner, Obama acknowledged that his opponent’s friendship did not constitute capitulation.

“John is not known to bite his tongue,” Obama said, “and if I’m screwing up, he’s going to let me know. And that’s how it should be because a presidency is just one branch of a broader government by and for the people.”

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