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Obama kicks of Capitol Hill meetings

WASHINGTON -- A public push by President Barack Obama to restore relations with his congressional colleagues entered its second stage, the luncheon phase, yesterday, when he conferred with Senate Democrats for the first of four midday meetings on Capitol Hill.

Obama gathered with his allies for more than an hour at their weekly, closed-door session. Top on his agenda is his effort to resolve the budget fight with congressional Republicans, as well as efforts to pass immigration reform and gun control.

The trek to the Hill is a rare one for this president, a politician who has regularly dismissed the role that personal relationships plays in politics and largely ignored complaints from both parties about his distant style.

This year, White House spokesman Jay Carney mocked reporters' questions about whether the president should go to the Hill as being based on expectations set by the television show "The West Wing." Still, just like the fictional President Josiah Bartlet, and real presidents before him, Obama announced he would be going to the Hill for three days in a row to meet with lawmakers.

Last week, he invited Republican senators out to dinner and House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) up to the White House for lunch. Today he'll meet with House Republicans, followed Thursday by separate meetings with Senate Republicans and House Democrats.

Lawmakers emerged from the meeting yesterday largely with positive reviews and promises to work together, particularly on any effort to craft a big deficit-reduction deal. -- Chicago Tribune

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