WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama summoned congressional leaders to the White House on the second day of a partial government shutdown that has furloughed hundreds of thousands of workers and closed military cemeteries as far away as France. Republican leaders welcomed the Wednesday afternoon meeting but questioned whether Democrats were ready to deal.
Much of the government's operations were put on hold early Tuesday — ruining vacations, robbing businesses of customers and even idling many in the nation's intelligence force — in a dispute over Republicans' efforts to block or postpone Obama's health care law.
Obama repeatedly has said he won't negotiate changes in the law in exchange for reopening the government. Some in both parties have ominously suggested the impasse might last for weeks, with tea party-backed conservatives especially committed to the fight. But a few Republicans seem ready to blink.
House Speaker John Boehner's office cast the White House invitation as a sign the president might be backing down.
"We're pleased the president finally recognizes that his refusal to negotiate is indefensible," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said. "It's unclear why we'd be having this meeting if it's not meant to be a start to serious talks between the two parties."
But an Obama adviser said the president would urge House Republicans to pass a spending bill free of the health care dispute or other demands.
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said "frankly, we're a little confused as to the purpose of this meeting."
Nevertheless, McConnell, R-Ky., and Boehner, R-Ohio, agreed to sit down with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Reid, for his part, offered a new round of budget talks to House Republicans if they allow the government to reopen.