WASHINGTON – Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, said after a meeting with President Bush at the White House Tuesday that it is clear the newly elected Republican is interested in forging alliances across party lines.
Cardin was one of a small group of lawmakers tapped to meet with the president on what was only Bush’s third full day in office. He said the group was philosophically and geographically diverse and evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to the people who were there,” said Cardin. The 20 or so legislators came to the White House at the president’s request to discuss the new administration’s legislative agenda and its chances for success on the Hill.
Cardin said “it was clear from his opening comments” that Bush is interested in bipartisanship, which the Baltimore Democrat took as a hopeful sign.
“There has to be a real effort to include Democrats and Republicans at the table,” Cardin said. “There has to be a willingness to compromise. . . .I think (the president) was very much interested.”
He added that Bush seemed open to what the lawmakers in attendance had to say.
While welcoming the president’s overture, Cardin was not ready to accept all the administration’s initiatives. He flatly rejected Bush’s call earlier in the day for vouchers for students at poor-performing public schools.
“I’m against it and I am very confident it will not be in the final bill,” Cardin said. “It’s a very divisive issue and it takes money away from public education.”
But Cardin said he is optimistic Congress and the president will be able to reach compromise on an education reform package as well as a broad range of other legislation, including Medicare prescription drug coverage, a patients’ bill of rights and certain aspects of the tax code.
Cardin is no stranger to compromise. Aides said he worked closely with Republicans to enact the Internal Revenue Service reform law that broadened congressional oversight of the agency and expanded taxpayers’ rights.
He said it is unusual for rank-and-file lawmakers to meet with the president before congressional leaders – who are expected to meet with Bush later this week. But he believes leadership welcomes the president’s gesture.
Cardin suspects that his reputation as someone who is “interested in getting things done” might be why he was among those chosen to attend Tuesday’s meeting.
Political analysts said Cardin’s reputation, as well as Bush’s “fairly thin mandate,” probably played a part in his inclusion in the first White House group.
“From the way I see it, the new president is trying to deal with people who might be called rainmakers and Ben Cardin has a great reputation for someone who makes things happen,” said Eric Uslaner, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, College Park.
“It makes sense for a new president with a fairly thin mandate to reach out to people who think differently from himself,” said Uslaner, who added that Bush could also be trying to disarm potential critics with his meetings.