02-19-2017  8:48 am      •     
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They went around and around for an hour, getting nowhere.

Then came a sudden change that could help break the political impasse causing a partial government shutdown and the looming threat of a further crisis when the nation bumps up against its self-imposed borrowing limit.

As first reported by CNN's Dana Bash and Deirdre Walsh, an exchange between GOP Rep. Paul Ryan and President Barack Obama seemed to clear the air, with each side acknowledging the validity of the other.

Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, conceded his side wouldn't get all it wanted while Obama said, tell me what you need to make something happen, Bash and Walsh reported after the Thursday night meeting.

CNN Chief National Correspondent John King told CNN's "New Day" on Friday that Ryan "said something to the effect of, 'Look, we know you don't like our position, we know you probably don't respect our position, but we're the Republican majority.' "

"You're stuck with us for a while, at least through the next election season, so we need to learn to have a conversation with each other," King paraphrased Ryan as saying.

"And at that point, both Democrats and Republicans say, the tone of the meeting changed," King added. "The president said, 'Listen, I'm not going to negotiate with you until you reopen the government, but go to your members, find out what you need to do to get that part done and let's try to make some progress.'"

CNN's reporting on the meeting is based on accounts from multiple sources who attended.

Republican Rep. Steve Southerland of Florida essentially confirmed the CNN account on Thursday night.

"Paul and the President certainly have a pass through the last election and I think there's a great respect between them. And you can't make that up." Southerland said, adding that "the communication between Paul and the President, I think, was an important part of the conversation."

The meeting appeared to begin breaking the partisan logjam that has kept parts of the government shut down for 11 days, leaving hundreds of thousands of federal employees without work and causing countless ripple effects, from lost tourist revenue around national parks to a threat to the Alaskan crab fishing season.

"We're all working together now," Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, said after the meeting, while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called the meeting "very useful."

The Obama administration described the meeting as "good," saying the President listened to Republican proposals and the two sides discussed "potential paths forward."

On Friday, Senate Republicans arrived at the White House for their talks with Obama, who has held separate sessions with the House party caucuses as well as Senate Democrats.

Senators are involved in their own talks to come up with a package that would reopen the government and lower the debt ceiling, while ending a tax on medical devices under Obamacare and setting up broader negotiations on deficit reduction.

In a video message to a conservative political summit Friday, Ryan warned the right-wing gathering that they can't get everything they want with Democrats holding the White House and a majority of the Senate.

"This President won't agree to everything we need to do," said the message from Ryan, according to excerpts provided by one of his aides. "A budget agreement with this President and this Senate won't solve our problems. But I hope it's a start."

Beginnings of a deal?

After initially demanding changes to or the elimination of Obama's signature health care reform plan, Republicans have more recently focused on extending the debt ceiling for up to six weeks while negotiating on spending and other issues during a continued government shutdown.

Democrats have insisted that the debt ceiling be raised and the government reopened before they would be willing to negotiate on other issues.

Obama made clear, during his session with House Republicans, that he won't give concessions to reopen the government, according to a Democratic source familiar with the meeting.

But he has indicated willingness to consider a short-term debt deal, a Democratic lawmaker told CNN.

"If that's what (House Speaker John) Boehner needs to climb out of the tree that he's stuck in, then that's something we should look at," according to the lawmaker, who attended the meeting and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Rep. Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, said both sides are talking "in good faith" about not just the debt ceiling, but also what it will take to restart the government.

"There was not a timeline set," Rogers said. "But we want to move quickly."

Some congressional Democrats have balked at the outline of the GOP offer, insisting the government must reopen and the debt ceiling must be increased to get broader talks going.

"One way or another both of those have to happen," said veteran Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan.

Another Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, said Obama "needs to press for the opening of the government."

"Without a doubt the default would be much more catastrophic, but I've got constituents, a lot of whom work for the federal government who are going through catastrophes every hour," Cummings said.

Anti-Obamacare provisions no longer in GOP plans

One thing any agreement won't include, it appears, is a provision to defund the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Ryan, who was the Republican party's vice presidential nominee last year, didn't mention Obamacare in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week, saying instead that politicians from both parties should focus on "modest reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code."

As others have done in recent days, GOP Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma told CNN on Thursday that cutting the funding for the President's signature health reform is "currently off the table."

However, Lankford said Republicans still seek a one-year delay in the penalties under Obamacare for people who fail to obtain health insurance, as required by the law.

Yet Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas -- one of the most vocal Republicans in the debate -- wasn't so ready to let the health care issue go. Speaking Thursday on CNN's "Crossfire," he said, "Democrats in this town do not want to discuss Obamacare."

On Obama's signature health care reform and what's happening in Washington generally, Cruz said that it's House Republicans who "are listening to the millions of Americans" to do what's best for them.

According to a GOP source, it's not certain whether Boehner can gain support from some or most of his GOP caucus for a plan without anything to do with Obamacare or other concessions. That could mean, if a proposal like the one floated Thursday proceeds, the speaker may need Democratic votes to pass it.

Failure to raise the debt ceiling by next week's deadline would leave the government unable to borrow money to pay its bills for the first time in its history. And absent a breakthrough, the shutdown would continue at a cost estimated at up to $50 billion a month.

All of this is taking a toll on Washington's reputation: A national CNN/ORC International survey released Monday indicated that Americans are blaming all parties in the fight, though Republicans got the worst of it.

CNN's Alan Silverleib, Chelsea J. Carter, Paul Steinhauser, Jim Acosta, Barbara Starr, Ted Barrett, Dan Merica and Brianna Keilar contributed to this report.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. 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Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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