WASHINGTON - Five days after Paul Ryan was sworn in as House speaker, the White House promised to invite him to meet President Obama for a perfunctory but traditional photo opportunity. It would be a chance for the leaders to shake hands for the cameras and exchange pledges to work together.
Ryan never got that invitation.
It turns out the White House didn't want a photo marking the advent of a new Republican speaker. And despite the new leadership, neither side was eager to signal a reset in relations. Instead, both Republican and White House officials say they picked up this fall where Obama and former House Speaker John Boehner had left off.
As Ryan himself put it, the House has an agenda, and "it doesn't require the president." The mutual lack of interest has taken hold with little drama.
Seeing scant reason to dig in and fight, congressional leaders and the White House reached an agreement on a massive year-end tax and spending package last week, without shutting down the government. The deal represented something once commonplace in Washington: a compromise, with elements for all sides to like and dislike.
But no one is talking about the dawn of a new era of cooperation.
"Kudos to him," Obama said of Ryan's work in "actually" passing a budget the way Congress used to.
In his year-end news conference, the president said he had "some optimism" on "a narrow set of issues."
After years of battling an unruly opposition, Obama long ago let go of the notion that he could find a secret to working with Congress.
As "charm offensives," dinners, and golf with Boehner yielded little, the White House relied on executive actions and negotiations with foreign leaders to advance its agenda. With just a year left in office, Obama has pared down his legislative expectations to two major pieces of business - final approval of the massive Pacific Rim free trade deal and a criminal justice reform bill.
Republicans complain of a president eager to thwart Congress' prerogatives, but his allies on Capitol Hill endorse the strategy.
"He's tried, and thank goodness he came to the realization that the crazy Republicans won't help him on anything," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid told the Associated Press.
From the perspective of Hill lawmakers - Republicans, and some Democrats - their interests are only drifting further away from a lame-duck president.
Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell see few areas of potential overlap. McConnell has sent mixed signals on criminal justice reform and poured cold water on the prospect for a major Asia trade bill. His goal for 2016 is to get the annual appropriations process back on track and promoting and protecting vulnerable Senate Republicans.
He blames Obama.
"The president's a smart, capable guy but he's very, very liberal," McConnell told the AP. "So you're left - when you have a president who's this liberal - with a smaller set of things that you can agree to do."