Republicans who enjoyed a three-hour private dinner with President Obama at the Jefferson Hotel last night — with POTUS picking up the tab — defended the meeting, even with the optics of leaving their colleague Sen. Ran Paul (R-Ky.) to filibuster while acquiescing to the president.

“Last night’s dinner with President Obama and my Republican colleagues was productive and substantive. I hope it will serve as the beginning of a new, long-overdue paradigm where people in elected office actually begin talking to each other about meaningful issues,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

“The discussions with the President about our long-term budget problems were candid and differences in philosophy were apparent. However, also apparent was common ground on how to move forward,” he added. “One thing I am certain of — the perpetual campaign will not solve the nation’s problems.”

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) on CNN this morning called it “a cordial dinner, but it was a serious dinner.”

“We talked about the subjects we should talk about, the debt and deficit and plunged into more and more debt through out of control government spending. I was glad the president took the opportunity to talk to us personally,” Coats said. “…It did not get contentious, but it was serious and we had, I think, a very adult discussion. Instead of being on the campaign trail, the president trying to make his point, we were working together and talking together about the real essence of our problem and how we can get this thing turned from this never-ending short-term fix fiscal cliff stuff into a long-term solution to our fiscal problem. I was pleased that it was that substantive.”

Graham and Coats were joined by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John McCain (R-S.C.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). Coburn, Johanns, and Chambliss have previously said they’re not seeking re-election.

Coburn called the feast “a good experience.”

“It’s something that should have happened years ago, which is part of the problems of this administration. And it’s going to take a while to build the kind of confidence and trust that’s needed. You know if you’ve had years of having somebody put a finger in your eye, and question your motivations, and ascribe to you things that aren’t accurate, that takes some healing. And I think it was very good for the president to have that dinner, and I think he needs to do a whole lot more of that,” he said on MSNBC.

“Because relationships matter. And building trust and confidence, and knowing you’re not going to get gamed is the way you get something done for the American people,” Coburn added.