Obama aides tackle Hill foreign policy concerns

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WASHINGTON -- White House officials have been holding private meetings this week aimed at soothing lawmakers' concerns over the U.S. posture in Syria, the future of the U.S. military's Afghanistan presence and defense spending. The meetings come as a frustrated White House seeks to push back at criticism of President Barack Obama's foreign policy.

But the White House outreach appeared to be having little effect on some lawmakers' concerns.

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's top Republican, called Tuesday night's White House meeting with chief of staff Denis McDonough and national security adviser Susan Rice "one of the most bizarre I've attended."

Another senator who attended the meeting said Mr. Obama's advisers refused to provide lawmakers with answers about whether the president plans to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the war formally concludes later this year, or about the Pentagon's efforts to find nearly 300 kidnapped Nigerian school girls.

Unsatisfied, some lawmakers started to leave one by one before the meeting had finished. The senator and three congressional aides briefed on the meeting insisted on anonymity to discuss the private talks.

White House spokesman Jay Carney, asked Friday about Mr. Corker's saying Tuesday's meeting was "bizarre," replied, "I don't know what he's referring to."

The meetings, which have been occurring both at the White House and on Capitol Hill, come as Mr. Obama prepares for a speech Wednesday at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., where he is expected to try to answer critics who say he has surrendered America's global leadership and faltered on problems in the Middle East, Russia, China and beyond.

Mr. McDonough and Ms. Rice met Monday night at the White House with about a dozen House Democrats. On Tuesday, officials invited 14 senators -- three of them Republicans -- to the White House for a foreign policy discussion over wine, beer and a cheese-and-cracker platter on the patio outside Mr. McDonough's office.

The chief of staff was on Capitol Hill as well Tuesday for a foreign policy-focused meeting with the full House.

He met Thursday with the full Senate, though national security took a backseat to economic issues.

The president did not drop by the White House meeting, surprising the senators.

White House officials cast the meetings as part of their effort to step up engagement with lawmakers who long have complained about feeling out of the loop regarding the president's decision-making.


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