WASHINGTON -- Enveloped by political gridlock, President Barack Obama is reaching out to rank-and-file Republicans, hosting GOP senators for dinner at the White House Wednesday night and then visiting Capitol Hill next week for separate meetings with Senate and House Republicans.
A congressional aide said the lawmakers scheduled to attend Wednesday's dinner are Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, Roy Blunt, Pat Toomey, Rob Portman, Bob Corker and Ron Johnson.
The dinner will be followed up by a rare trip by Obama to Capitol Hill. He'll meet there with Senate Republicans Thursday and hold a separate meeting with House Republicans, although a date for that meeting is yet to be scheduled.
The president will also meet with Senate Democrats on Tuesday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the president requested the meeting through his chief of staff. McConnell's office said the president last attended the Senate GOP's policy lunch in May 2010.
``We have numerous challenges facing the country and Republicans have offered the president serious solutions to shrink Washington spending and grow the economy,'' McConnell said in a statement. ``And we will have an opportunity to discuss them with the president at the lunch.''
House Speaker John Boehner's office said Wednesday that the president had also requested the meeting next week with House Republicans. The White House and Boehner's office were working to schedule that meeting, the speaker's office said.
The meetings are part of Obama's broader outreach to Republicans after the White House and Congress failed to reach a deal to avert the $85 billion in automatic budget cuts that started going into effect Friday. The president is specifically reaching out to rank-and-file Republicans, not GOP leadership.
Among the GOP lawmakers Obama has called are Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
``This is how you solve hard problems,'' Graham said. ``We're talking about following up on that, how we can get more people in the mix, so what I see from the president is incredibly encouraging.''
White House aides say the president's calls with Republicans focus in part on jumpstarting broader budget talks, but also on Obama's proposals for overhauling the nation's immigration laws and enacting stricter gun control measures.
```He is reaching out and talking to members about a variety of issues - not just our fiscal challenges, but certainly the fiscal issues are among the issues he is talking about with lawmakers,'' White House spokesman Jay Carney said.