Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

Obama calls Sen. Mark Kirk day before Capitol Hill visits

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WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama phoned Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) on Monday to discuss gun violence and deficit reduction, according to a White House official, with the call coming as Obama this week makes three trips to Capitol Hill to woo members of Congress.

Obama meets with Senate Democrats on Tuesday, House Republicans on Wednesday, Senate Republicans and House Democrats on Thursday.

Last week, Obama had dinner at a hotel here with 12 GOP senators, had Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) over to the White House for lunch, is making calls--such as the Kirk phoned--and, with the Capitol Hill visits, talking directly to members--not just their leader.

At the Monday briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney outlined Obama's broad agenda with these visits, seen as a "charm offensive" needed to try to remake congressional relations.

Obama will, Carney said, discuss "a range of priorities including, of course, conversations he's been having on budget-related issues, the need to reduce our deficit in a balanced way, but also immigration reform and the progress that's being made on that subject in a bipartisan way, efforts to move forward on actions to reduce gun violence -- also efforts that involve both Democrats and Republicans.

"Other items that are on his list of priorities include increasing our energy independence, the need to do something about the pace of nominations being confirmed and considered in the Senate -- judicial nominations, in particular -- as well as the need for Congress to take action on cybersecurity."

Obama basically discussed "legislative priorities" with Kirk, I was told.

Obama gave Kirk a cordial greeting when he saw him at as he entered the House chamber on Feb. 12 for his State of the Union speech. The president gave a fist bump to Kirk who returned to the Senate last January after an absence of nearly a year because of a stroke.

While Obama and Kirk served together in Congress, the two have never been particularly close. Kirk is seen by the Obama team as one of the Senate Republicans who may, on occasion work with the White House, for example on legislation to curb gun violence.

Kirk, along with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) have championed legislation, on track to pass the Senate, to crack down on gun trafficking and fencing. However, Kirk, so far, has opposed a measure to require background checks for all gun buyers--though he has not closed that door.

"We are committed to continuing to work in a bipartisan effort with Senators Schumer, Coburn and others in order to find a commonsense solution for enhanced background checks, however, Senator Schumer's current proposal is one we cannot support as it stands today," Kirk said in a March 6 statement.

"Our goal is to pass a bill that will close loopholes in the current background check process in a way that does not burden law-abiding citizens. Any bill we support will guarantee that Americans' Second Amendment rights are clearly protected. We simply want to make sure firearms do not end up in the hands of convicted criminals or people who are deemed mentally unstable by court ruling.

"While the bill Senator Schumer introduced today doesn't meet this standard, we will continue to work with Senator Schumer, Senator Coburn and other colleagues to find a commonsense compromise."

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on March 11, 2013 6:57 PM.

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