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October 22, 2014

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Were Obama’s visits to Hill worth it without a breakthrough? Reid weighs in

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J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Continuing his effort to end political gridlock with Congress, President Barack Obama comes to Capitol Hill to meet with the Senate Republican caucus, in Washington, Thursday, March 14, 2013. From left to right, he is greeted by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

After three days and four meetings, President Barack Obama and rank-and-file members of Congress have logged more quality time together than any other week of his presidency.

But while he got a round of bipartisan thanks for the chats, it’s not clear that Obama’s tour actually broke congressional gridlock.

“I really think it was a rather bland conversation,” said Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran after Obama’s Thursday talk with Senate Republicans.

With Senate Republicans, Obama talked budgets (they’re still divided on whether to tax, to cut, or both), tax reform (there may be a chance to work together on corporate tax reform), and the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline (Obama promised to make a decision this year).

With House Democrats, Obama discussed budgets (“I won’t chase a bad deal,” he told them), immigration (he’s optimistic), and entitlement reform — where he got some real pushback on his stated willingness to slow down cost of living adjustments for Social Security, including from Nevada Rep. Dina Titus, who stopped to chat with the Sun after the meeting.

But the state of those conversations and sentiments are not particularly different than they were in late 2012, when lawmakers were simultaneously working out their post-election policy stands and breaking down budgeting philosophy during Congress’ long debate over the fiscal cliff.

So what was the point?

“I’ve had people ask me about his coming here,” Sen. Harry Reid said on Thursday.

(Warning: This next part may only appeal to those with a soft spot for Las Vegas lore.)

“I’m reminded, there was a man in Las Vegas, name was Benny Binion. He was a very colorful figure,” Reid said. “Some say he had, maybe had, some organized crime ties, but didn’t matter. He was a famous man in Las Vegas.”

(Obama tie-in coming.)

“Benny decided he was going to, he wanted to get involved in a real low court [race for] justice of the peace. And he gave a nice campaign contribution to the man that was running,” Reid said. “And one of his friends said: ‘Benny, what good is that going to do you?’ He said: ‘It won’t do me any harm.’”

“So my point is, with the president, his coming here, I hope it does good, but it’s certainly not going to do any harm,” Reid said.

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