President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker Paul Ryan met Tuesday in search of political common ground as Obama winds down his final year in office and the two Republican congressional leaders try to steer their chambers through a contentious election year.
The White House sought to highlight areas where Obama, McConnell, R-Ky., and Ryan, R-Wis., could find bipartisan support on Capitol Hill – overhauling the criminal justice system, combating the nation’s opioid abuse problem, and resolving Puerto Rico’s financial crisis.
"Hopefully we’re going to find willing partners on Capitol Hill to advance those measures," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters after the meeting. "I think that’s certainly the expectation of most voters across the country."
McConnell added another issue to the mix: taking action against the Zika virus. An outbreak of the virus, usually spread through mosquito bites, has reached 28 countries and territories, according the Centers for Disease Control.
A mild fever and rash that usually last about a week are symptoms of the disease. But the virus has been linked to cases of microcephaly – a condition in which babies are born with smaller than normal heads.
"We need to get out in front of the Zika virus to make sure that we don't end up -- you know, having the kind of feeling across the country that we're sort of reacting too late, like we did on Ebola," McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill.
On the opioid epidemic, the White House announced before the meeting that Obama is seeking $1 billion as part of his upcoming budget proposal to combat drug abuse.
"We’ve certainly been pleased to see this issue get a lot of bipartisan attention in context of the presidential race, particularly in New Hampshire, so today seemed like an appropriate day for us to talk about some of the administration’s plans for confronting that significant challenge," Earnest said.
McConnell said "all of us understand that this Puerto Rico issue is a big issue" but added that no consensus was reached Tuesday about how to deal approach it.
"We had a kind of general discussion about how to go forward," he said. "Let me just be perfectly clear about one thing: No solution to the Puerto Rico problem that involves the U.S. taxpayer dollars is going to be passing in this Congress."