Barack Obama's shift to schmooze offensive reflects political reality

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama's abrupt shift to a schmooze offensive – dining and visiting with Republican lawmakers – reflects a need for some resolution in the budget wars so he can move on to other priorities like gun control and immigration that could define his second term.

A drop in his approval ratings in recent weeks and a new round of media questions about his scant socializing with members of Congress have also likely put pressure on Obama to start talking to his political foes.

"He has a limited amount of time to tackle the items on his agenda, like immigration, increasing the minimum wage and gun control," said Nancy-Ann DeParle, who recently stepped down as deputy White House chief of staff and is now a Brookings Institution guest scholar.

"He can't waste time on a protracted battle over the budget and sequester," said DeParle. "That should be left to the Congress to figure out."

With another budget deadline looming, he needs to get a deal completed so he can seek legislative approval of other items on his second-term agenda. This year is key because by year's end Congress will start to look toward the 2014 midterm election.

White House aides say the socializing came about because Obama felt there had been a break in the crisis atmosphere that gripped Washington in the weeks leading up to automatic spending cuts, known as the sequester, that kicked in on March 1.

But beyond their statements, they are contending with an unfavorable trend in his approval ratings.

A Reuters/Ipsos online poll released on Wednesday showed 43 percent of Americans approve of Obama's handling of his job, down 7 percentage points from Feb. 19. That came after his high-profile campaign to shame Republicans into accepting higher taxes to avoid the sequester cuts fizzled.

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