Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia did not seem fazed by a rare congressional invitation to golf with President Barack Obama on Monday, sinking a hole-in-one on the par-three 11th hole. The ace shot helped lead Chambliss and GOP teammate Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee to victory over the Democratic duo of Obama and Colorado Sen. Mark Udall on an outing meant to strengthen ties between the president and Congress.
Chambliss told reporters upon his triumphant return to Capitol Hill that “everyone went crazy” when he made the shot and there were high-fives all around. The president retrieved the Chambliss’ ball from the hole, while Corker took a picture.
“I told him since I made the hole-in-one, he ought to give us everything we want on entitlement reform,” Chambliss said with a smile. That’s Washington speak for legislation to change benefits like Social Security and Medicare.
Obama took the senators to a favorite course at Maryland’s Andrews Air Force Base, where he frequently plays on weekends with aides and friends. He once took along House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and has also included Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., but this was his first outing with any lawmaker in his second term.
The afternoon game added a recreational twist to Obama’s months-long effort to strengthen ties with lawmakers, hoping some quality face time now can lay the groundwork for compromise on pressing issues down the road.
The foursome played under overcast skies that seemed to threaten rain that never came. Their game was cut short on the 15th hole so the senators could get back for a vote to allow states to tax Internet sales. The casually-dressed lawmakers had to rush in and shout their votes from the Senate’s cloakroom since they did not have time to put on ties that are required in the chamber.
Corker said they agreed not to say much about what happened on the course, other than Chambliss’ ace shot. “We talked a little business but mostly enjoyed just being out there,” Corker said.
The White House noted that the president was the weakest golfer in the group, with the highest handicap, and paired with fellow Democrat Udall, who had to the lowest handicap. All three of the senators were ranked among the top 40 on Golf Digest’s 2011 list of “Washington’s Top 150 Golfers.”
Obama, wearing a windbreaker and cap, chatted casually with the lawmakers in view of the reporters on the first green. The White House said the talk centered on their game and not the latest legislative negotiations.
The White House and Democrats are working to secure support for an immigration overhaul — especially from Republicans. They’re hoping that a strong bipartisan showing in the Senate will strengthen the bill’s prospects for passing the Republican-controlled House. Obama is also hoping to find common ground with lawmakers that could lead to a broad budget deal.
Corker and Chambliss figure prominently on fiscal issues and also are being eyed as possible supporters on an immigration bill. Udall has a reputation for working across party lines and could be a player in bipartisan negotiations.
In recent weeks Obama has entertained senators from both parties at the White House, held dinners at a nearby hotel, traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers and made countless phone calls.
“He’s willing to try anything,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. “Whether it’s a conversation on the phone or a meeting at the Oval Office, or dinner at a restaurant or dinner at the residence, he’s going to have the same kinds of conversations.”
Chambliss, who says he golfs 30 to 40 times a year, said he made another hole-in-one more than 20 years ago, but “this one’s pretty special.” He said he used a 5-iron and choked up on his club but couldn’t tell if he sunk it.
Once Chambliss confirmed it was in the hole, there were high-fives all around, he said. The players all signed the flag for him.
Chambliss, who plans to retire next year, said he will frame the ball and the flag. “If my children want it one of these days, they can get it. Otherwise it will probably be in the nursing home with my wife and me,” he said.