WASHINGTON — President Biden on Tuesday hosted hundreds of lawmakers, their families and aides for the first congressional picnic at the White House in three years, speaking fondly of a bygone era in which Democrats and Republicans could get along, despite differing political views.
“I wish we were able to do more of this so that you all got to know one another well,” Biden said, casually dressed without a jacket or tie. The president reminisced of an increasingly quaint time on Capitol Hill, when lawmakers would spend considerably more time socializing and becoming acquainted with one another’s families.
Those interactions, Biden said, helped lawmakers get along better. The president, who spent 36 years in the Senate, recalled advice that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., gave him when he arrived in Washington as a young senator: spend time in the Senate Dining Room, which is for senators only, and get to know new colleagues.
“It’s hard to dislike a colleague when you know he or she has a wife or husband that has cancer,” Biden said. “It’s hard to look at someone who you strongly disagree with and make it personal when you know they have a son or daughter that has a problem.”
Though the White House picnic was cut short by an impending thunderstorm, Biden had plenty of time to mingle with lawmakers and their families, taking selfies and greeting them shortly before he was to leave for the Middle East.
The hundreds of guests on the South Lawn, which included White House aides, noshed on fried chicken, Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, smoked barbecue brisket, vegetable sandwiches and Dove ice cream bars with wrappers adorned with the presidential seal.
But Biden could not escape questions about his poor political standing, highlighted this week by a New York Times/Siena College poll that found just 26 percent of Democratic voters believe he should be renominated by the party in 2024.
“They want me to run,” Biden said of Democrats when asked about the poll results during the picnic. “That poll showed that 92 percent of Democrats, if I ran, would vote for me.” The 92 percent figure in the poll referred to the percentage of Democrats who said they would support Biden if former President Donald Trump were the Republican nominee.
The White House said more than 250 lawmakers, including dozens of House and Senate Republicans, attended the picnic along with a smattering of Cabinet officials and scores of congressional aides. Among the GOP lawmakers were Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Mike Lee of Utah and Rep. Michael Turner of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.