President Barack Obama and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell held a rare private meeting at the White House Wednesday, though bourbon was not on the menu.
“It’s an afternoon meeting,” Press Secretary Josh Earnest explained to reporters at the daily White House press briefing, adding “that may be Jimmy Buffett's philosophy, but Jimmy Buffett's not the president of the United States.”
The behind-closed-doors confab came as the Republican leader prepares to take control of the Senate in January and as Obama has said he’ll be “spending a lot more time” with McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, even joking he’d welcome a drink with McConnell.
“Actually, I would enjoy having some Kentucky bourbon with Mitch McConnell,” Obama said at a post-election press conference, after Republicans seized control of the Senate and widened their hold on the House.
Obama and McConnell had a "good conversation about a variety of different issues where we might possibly find common ground,” McConnell told CNN.
“This was not the bourbon summit,” he said. “But I’m still hoping we’ll have it."
Earnest characterized Wednesday’s meeting in the Oval Office as an opportunity for the two to have a “private conversation about their priorities moving forward.” He said he expected they’d talk about finding a way to reach a deal on passing a budget before Congress leaves Washington for the holidays.
He noted that McConnell has warned against a government shutdown, quoting McConnell as saying “We need to quit rattling the economy with things that are perceived by voters as disturbing."
Obama and McConnell have long had a distant relationship, in part because of their different governing styles. The president has never been one to socialize or lobby lawmakers as he tries to push an agenda and McConnell is a veteran lawmaker with a history as a dealmaker.
But Earnest said both are interested in finding common ground to get some legislation passed.
“I think the president takes seriously the responsibility that he has to work with the man who is the incoming Republican leader in the Senate,” Earnest said. “And Senator McConnell himself has been pretty candid about opportunities that he sees to work with Democrats in Congress and with the administration to make progress.”
The two don’t have any “personal difficulties,” McConnell told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, but they do not see eye to eye.
“We don’t have any personal problems,” McConnell said, noting he had reached several deals with the administration. “There is, however, a deep philosophical difference.”
He called Obama’s post-election performance baffling: “You look at the way the president’s reacted to what can only be described as a butt kicking election. By any objective standard the president got crushed in this election. So I’ve been perplexed by the reaction since the election, this sort of in-your-face dramatic move to the left. So I don’t know what we can expect in terms of reaching bipartisan agreement. That’s my first choice, to look at things that we actually agree on — if there are any.”
He said there may be areas for agreement on trade and comprehensive tax reform.