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President Barack Obama boards Air Force One to depart from the TAC Air terminal at Lovell Field in Chattanooga on Tuesday, July 30, 2013. (Photo by Dan Henry)

One early sign that the 114th Congress may usher in a chummier relationship between congressional Republicans and President Barack Obama: The president is giving U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and U.S. Rep. John Duncan a lift on Air Force One to his Knoxville appearance today.

Obama is coming to talk about education and is expected specifically to tout Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's Tennessee Promise program, which aims to offer every high school senior in the state a cost-free path to college.

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U.S. Tennessee Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander

When Obama came to Chattanooga in July 2013, no congressional Republican tagged along. The same was true when he visited Nashville in December.

These days, though, the GOP appears to be using the midterm power shift on Capitol Hill as a way to reset the rapport with the White House and prove that the party can govern. But political experts say it could merely be a relationship of convenience -- and it may not last.

Corker said in a media call Wednesday that traveling with the president was a no-brainer.

"The subject matter is actually our state's success in higher education," Corker said. "Anytime the president of the United States wants to highlight our state's success in higher education ... I'm happy to be there."

U.S. Reps. Scott DesJarlais and Chuck Fleischmann, who represent Southeast Tennessee, will not attend due to a vote on the House floor today, according to their spokespersons.

Ramesh Ponurru, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, a D.C-based private, nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, said it's too early to say whether the friendly behavior will continue. It may grind to a halt if Obama makes good on his threat to veto the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline bill, Ponurru said. The Keystone bill came out of committee Thursday and is on its way to the Senate floor for possible amendments.

But even with a majority in the House and Senate, there are plenty of Republicans -- particularly those who face elections in 2016 in swing states -- who need to play ball with Obama, Ponurru said.

"There are definitely a lot of congressional Republicans who believe they need to prove they can govern, which means they need to make things into law. And they can't do that without him," Ponurru said.

Vanderbilt political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer said Thursday that Tennessee's Republicans are squarely not in that group.

Alexander and Haslam just won re-election, and Corker isn't up for another four years.

"And then, Obama won't be in office," Oppenheimer said. "So they don't have to worry about someone coming up on a primary with a picture of them sharing a platform [with Obama]. Any negativity they might get from primary Republican politics is no longer a problem for them."

Oppenheimer added that sharing a plane with the president also gives you the possibility for frank, candid conversation, which can be hard to come by on the Hill.

But Oppenheimer also said there was no telling if or when the GOP/Obama relationship could return to pre-midterm acrimony.

"We'll just have to wait and see," Oppenheimer said. "It might not mean that tomorrow they won't be criticizing one another."

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com, @glbrogdoniv on Twitter or at 423-757-6481.

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