By David Jackson
President Obama took some time off from his sequester campaign Thursday to speak with his top two Republican rivals in Congress, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Obama and GOP aides had little to say about the conversations. The White House announced that Obama would travel to Virginia next week to discuss what effects automatic budget cuts would have on the defense industry.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that Obama "had good conversations" with Boehner and McConnell, "but I have no further readout of those calls for you."
Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck also had no readout. McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said only that it was the first outreach from the president to the Senate Republican leader since New Year's Eve.
The phone calls come amid an aggressive Obama campaign warning Republicans to avoid sequestration -- $85 billion in domestic and defense cuts to kick in March 1 unless the president and GOP strike an alternative debt-reduction deal.
"I don't know if they're going to move," Obama said of the Republicans during a Thursday radio interview with Al Sharpton. "And that's what we're going to have to try to keep pushing over the next seven or eight days."
Obama's campaign now includes a road trip Tuesday to the Newport News, Va., shipyards, where Obama again plans to argue that the sequester includes Pentagon cuts that will weaken national security.
"There will be real-world impacts to the implementation of the sequester," Carney said. "There will be jobs on the line."
A House Republican from Virginia, J. Randy Forbes, said he voted against the 2011 debt ceiling agreement that included the sequester, while Obama signed it into law.
"Now that our nation is days away from these devastating cuts, I'm pleased he is visiting our region," Forbes said. "I hope it is the first step towards working with the president to overturn the bill that he signed into law."
Carney and other officials said Boehner, McConnell and other Republican leaders supported the sequester as part of the 2011 package to raise the debt ceiling.
The idea of sequestration was that the cuts would be so painful it would force the parties to reach an alternative agreement to cutting the nation's $16 trillion-plus debt -- but that has not happened.
In a variety of ways -- including a White House speech, and radio and television interviews -- Obama has demanded that Republicans avoid sequestration with a "balanced" plan that includes higher tax revenues as well as spending cuts. Obama said the higher revenues would come by ending loopholes and deductions available only to wealthy Americans.
The president did radio interviews Thursday afternoon with Sharpton, Joe Madison and Yolanda Adams, all of whom host shows with predominately African-American audiences.
Boehner, McConnell and other Republicans said Obama got a tax rate increase with the "fiscal cliff" deal last month, and this debt agreement should involve spending cuts only.
Aides said the last Republican House under Boehner's leadership passed two debt cutting plans with spending cuts only, and the current House is prepared to do so again.
The Democratic-led Senate has not taken up either plan, though Obama and the Democrats have said the House GOP proposals would slash essential programs and services at the expense of the middle class.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel suggested Obama call Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "If he wants to avert the sequester," Steel said, "shouldn't the president be focused on the House of Congress that hasn't acted, and where his own political party holds the majority?"