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Congressional Progressives Want To Know Why Obama Won't Meet With Them

"He has to answer why he has not been able to meet with us," Rep. Keith Ellison told BuzzFeed. "I'm sure he's busy, but he's working on stuff we're also working on."

Posted on February 21, 2014, at 11:59 a.m. ET

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WASHINGTON — Progressives are getting things they want, but the one thing progressives on Capitol Hill really want is to talk to President Obama.

It's been four years, by most estimates, since the members of the Progressive Caucus last met with Obama. And even though progressives feel like they're in a generally good place these days, congressional progressives want some face time with the president.

"Why hasn't he met with us? I don't know," Rep. Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told BuzzFeed. "We've asked him, we've asked him. He did this executive order stuff … some might say why do you need this meeting? There's other stuff."

There's no real riff between Obama and the progressive caucus, Ellison insisted. They just want the chance other similar groups have had. And Ellison said he feels they deserve that opportunity since they've been, and will continue to be in a tough election year, some of his most ardent supporters.

"We're the ones that are going to defend and protect the Affordable Care Act — we're not running from it," Ellison said.

In general, progressive activists have seen successes in 2014.

When the president pulled chained CPI from his upcoming budget proposal Thursday, progressives celebrated. A few weeks earlier when he signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers, they added another notch to their belt. And in his state of the union when Obama focused his message on fighting income inequality, again they were pleased.

The congressional progressives, however, still want to talk to Obama.

In the past, the president has been criticized for not having the best relationship with Congress, but recently he's tried to cozy up a bit.

Last summer, Obama met with the Black Caucus and the Hispanic Caucus, both of which also have members that are in the Progressive Caucus. Last week, Obama gave a speech at the Democrat retreat in Cambridge, Md., and just a few weeks before that he met with all congressional Democrats in the White House. The president has had a number of meetings or drinks with congressional Democrats in recent months, in fact.

Even House and Senate Republicans got some face time with the president recently, though it was under more hostile conditions during the government shutdown.

"He has to answer why he has not been able to meet with us," Ellison told BuzzFeed. "I'm sure he's busy, but he's working on stuff we're also working on."

Ellison said on Dec. 4 he handed a letter directly to the president requesting some face time for the caucus and like the other times he's asked for access, hasn't received a response.

The White House declined to comment for this story.

The most contentious issue between the congressional progressives and Obama remains trade. Obama wants fast-track trade promotion authority in order to complete trade agreements — including one with the European Union and countries that are part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Progressives don't want to give it to him.

"There is no trust whatsoever with this admin on the trade issue," progressive strategist Mike Lux said.

Lux added that while he "appreciates the movement" on some issues, the president hasn't taken progressive concerns seriously enough.

"Respect issues," Lux said. "There are some problems there."

That trust and respect could be won over with a little face time, Ellison maintains.

"We have some points of view that don't necessarily line up," Ellison said. "We'd like to engage him on our views and maybe he can persuade us on his views, or we can persuade him on our views."