WASHINGTON - The 20 women in the Senate had plans to get together for dinner Tuesday, at Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski's house. Then President Obama called and asked them to come over to his place instead.
"I hope he has a chance to get a word in edgewise," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said. "We'll have a lot to say."
Obama has hosted one dinner with a small group of Republican senators and another of Democratic ones in an effort to forge closer ties in Congress as he pushes his second-term agenda.
Now he is joining one of the few enduring bipartisan conclaves on Capitol Hill, the regular dinner series held by the growing number of female members of the Senate. On the agenda: trying to reach a compromise budget deal and the prospects for passing a comprehensive immigration bill this year.
Klobuchar, interviewed for the USA TODAY video series "Capital Download," rejected the suggestion by some Republican senators that the Boston Marathon bombing - thought to be the work of two Chechen immigrants - was a reason to reconsider an immigration overhaul. "I don't think it's a reason to slow it down," she said. "I think it's actually a reason to make reforms," underscoring the need to more closely track "who gets in here and how they get in and who they are."
Those urging a slowdown "were going to oppose the immigration bill anyway, is my guess."
She said the odds of passing an immigration overhaul "are incredibly high" in the wake of a proposal unveiled last week by the so-called Gang of Eight, four Republican and four Democratic senators. But hopes for passing a gun-control bill have faded, especially after supporters last week couldn't muster the 60 votes necessary for a bipartisan plan sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to expand background checks of gun buyers.
"One of the most disappointing things for me, really, since I've been in the Senate was when Sen. Manchin and Sen. Toomey put themselves on the line, were able to broach this compromise and bring people together - that that failed," she said.
A USA TODAY Poll published Tuesday found support for passing a gun-control bill has ebbed a bit, to 49%-45%, four months after the shooting rampage at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., fueled calls for action.
"This has gone on through history, where an incident happens that's very tragic and then people get focused on it and the next thing you know, you have Boston and people focused on that," Klobuchar said. "This year may be hard, but the American people are mad about this."
Klobuchar had kind words for former comedian Al Franken, the junior senator from Minnesota and a fellow Democrat who was elected in 2008 by a margin of 312 votes. He is running for re-election in 2014.
"He would like to more than double his margin, that's his goal," Klobuchar joked, then added, "He's clearly done a good job in the Senate. He's put his head down and worked. People thought, 'Oh, his former life on Saturday Night LIve, is he going to just be a laugh riot and come over and be a celebrity?' That just hasn't been the case at all. He's put Minnesota first and done his work."
Klobuchar, a two-term senator who turns 53 on Thursday, dodged a question about whether she was interesting in running for president. "I love my job right now," she said. "This is what I'm doing." She noted that Minnesota's tradition, including Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey, was to be elected for the No. 2 job.
"In fact, the joke is that in Minnesota, new moms bounce their babies on their knees and say, 'One day, you can grow up to be vice president.'"
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