Regardless of whether the President's bipartisan outreach is producing legislative results, there is a handful of conservatives and Republicans that the president and his White House team respect. By respect, I mean, quite simply, the degree to which the White House responds to their worries and needs and believes that the time spent responding is useful and necessary. It is unclear whether the quality of this outreach differs from the respect accorded to Sen. Ben Nelson by the Bush White House.
The Mainers, Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe -- They don't ask for much, but they are among the first senators consulted by the White House on any major decision. Why? Their votes matter. In fact, so far as the White House is concerned, on major issues where a 60-vote supermajority is needed for cloture, they're the only Republicans who matter. Their every concern is heard by the White House.
Dick Lugar -- He gets as much attention from the White House as Snowe and Collins. He is close to Obama, having partnered with him early in the president's aborted Senate career to combat nuclear trafficking overseas, and Obama regularly consults with the Indiana Republican on matters ranging from defense appropriations to Afghanistan to Russia policy and loose nukes.
John McCain -- I've speculated that McCain's post-campaign frustration has limited his influence with the Obama White House. I'm wrong. McCain's imprimatur on major national security policy matters to the general officer corps is quite powerful and is a sign to the consensus foreign policy establishment (the post-Bush consensus) that Obama is acting respectfully. On Gitmo, torture, Afghanistan, and procurement reform, McCain's voice gets into Obama's head -- and that's the way Obama wants it.
David Brooks -- It's an open secret in Washington that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel telephones the conservative New York Times columnist more than just about anyone else except for his wife. Brooks's columns have been quite critical of Obama as of late, which testifies to Brooks's independence and to Emanuel's sticktoitiveness. Their friendship predates the administration by many years, but the White House understands that Brooks's voice, even when not embraced by conservatives, influences how centrists and many intellectually honest liberal Democrats look at the world.
Harvard Law Professor Jack Goldsmith -- A former Office of Legal COunsel head in the Bush Department of Justice, his writings on terrorism and the law are often cited by the president's advisers in conversation, and the president himself has been known to cite his admiration for the way in which Goldsmith engages the problems from all angles -- political, legal, philosophical. Don't be surprised if Goldsmith ends up on a WH commission or task force at some point. So far as I can tell, Goldsmith is not yet in regular contact with the administration.
Others: Sen. Chuck Grassley, on budget and health care matters, as well as government operations; Sen. Orrin Hatch on health care; Sen. Mel Martinez on immigration; Govs. Schwarzenegger and Crist on policy matters, the environment and the stimulus; George Will; the National Association of Manufacturers (much more bipartisan recently) on labor and taxes; Sen. Lindsey Graham on detainee issues; Sen. Judd Gregg (still); what of Charles Krauthammer, who dined with Obama pre-inaugural? He's read...but not influential.
Marc Ambinder is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.