The incoming congressional leadership and President Obama will finally meet tomorrow. Given the great challenges facing our nation, there is an intense focus on both the personalities and the substance of the meeting.
Most of the attention is focused on the relationship between the House Republicans and the president. This is not surprising, since the sweeping 63-seat pickup in the House put in place an entirely new leadership team headed by Speaker-to-be John Boehner. Frankly, the White House did not pay much attention to the Republicans when they were in the minority. There will be a great deal of getting to know one another over the next several months, a process that should have started in 2009.
But in the end, it may be that relations with the Senate are more important. First, Democrats will still be setting the agenda. The president is always the most important driver of policy, and Democrats still control both the White House and the Senate. If the president wishes to abandon the failed strategy of policy driven by his left-wing base, he will not only have to be able to work with House Republicans, he will have to get buy-in from Harry Reid and Senate Democrats. That would mean a real change for the White House practice of handing over legislative operations to the congressional leadership.
Even more interesting, the Senate Republicans may emerge as the pivotal leadership. As Senate Democrats look forward to the further threat of large losses in 2012, the rank-and-file may find themselves aligning as closely as possible with Republicans. Mitch McConnell may hold the title of “minority” leader, but have a majority of the votes. How will President Obama retool his relations with Senate Republicans?