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Obama poised to meet with (some) House Republicans

Associated Press

President Obama extended an invitation to the very House Republicans responsible for the government shutdown and looming debt-ceiling crisis. How many GOP House members is the president prepared to visit with? All of them.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) accepted the invitation, but took it upon himself to narrow the guest list.

House Republican leaders and a team of negotiators will meet with President Barack Obama at the White House Thursday, sparking disappointment from the president that his invitation to the entire GOP conference had been spurned.

"President Obama is disappointed that Speaker Boehner is preventing his members from coming to the White House," Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. "The President thought it was important to talk directly with the members who forced this economic crisis on the country about how the shutdown and a failure to pay the country's bills could devastate the economy."

He made it clear that Obama would still welcome the GOP delegation.

Boehner will instead dispatch 18 House Republicans -- whom the Speaker has designated "negotiators," despite the fact that the meeting is not a negotiation -- chosen to represent the caucus.

And why couldn't the entire caucus join Obama at the White House, as per the president's request? According to Boehner's spokesperson, "a meeting is only worthwhile if it is focused on finding a solution," and that's why "the House Republican Conference will instead be represented by a smaller group of negotiators."

There are a few problems with this.

First, when the president of the United States requests a meeting with members of Congress, congressional leaders really shouldn't say no -- ever.

Second, Boehner's office can continue to pretend negotiations are set to begin -- negotiations in which Democrats will present concessions, offered in exchange for nothing, in the hopes that Republicans will finally consider completing basic governmental tasks -- but they're not.

And third, if today's meeting should be "focused on finding a solution," why would Obama spend time with a feckless House Speaker and his hand-picked allies? One of the key lessons of 2013 is that Boehner is Speaker In Name Only and has very little control and/or influence over what actually happens in the chamber he ostensibly runs.

Assuming that Boehner is in control is one of the main reasons the government shut down in the first place -- Democratic leaders set aside their own policy goals because the Speaker agreed to move on a "clean" spending bill that would keep the government's lights on. The trouble started when House Republican members told the House Republican leadership that the agreement wasn't good enough.

It's the underlying problem in having such a weak Speaker: the White House doesn't really have a Republican leader to talk to. It's presumably why the president asked to speak with all of the House Republicans, since Boehner clearly isn't in a position to deliver.

But like it or not, Obama will have to settle for 18 House Republicans. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 4:30 eastern and I'll let you know what happens.