Rep. Jim Cooper, a conservative Democrat from Tennessee, told a liberal radio network on Monday that the Obama White House encouraged him to defy House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the $819 billion economic stimulus bill.
"Well, I probably shouldn't tell you this, but I actually got some quiet encouragement from the Obama folks for what I'm doing," said Cooper, one of only 11 Democrats to vote against the economic stimulus plan that passed the House last week.
"They know it's a messy bill and they wanted a clean bill," he said. "Now, I got in terrible trouble with our leadership because they don't care what's in the bill, they just want it to pass and they want it to be unanimous."
Cooper, whose startling admission came on Liberadio, may have gotten in deeper trouble after news reports of the interview. He issued a statement Wednesday saying Obama's staff never suggested he vote against the bill.
"At no point did any member of President Obama's staff encourage me to vote against the House economic recovery bill. I told them I believed that the bill had too much long-term spending and didn't meet the president's goal of getting 75 percent of the money into the economy within 18 months. After the conversation, I felt encouraged that the administration understood those concerns and shared my longstanding commitment to fiscal responsibility," he said in a statement.
Cooper was one of about 55 House Democrats to sign a letter criticizing Pelosi for suspending debate and committee rules on the fiscal package.
"They don't mind the partisan fighting cause that's what they are used to. In fact, they're really good at it -- and they're a little bit worried about what a post-partisan future might look like," Cooper said during the radio interview. "If members actually had to read the bills and figure out whether they are any good or not. We're just told how to vote. We're treated like mushrooms most of the time."
An early supporter of President Obama, Cooper is a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition of Democrats.
Cooper told the radio show that lawmakers are looking at ways to get rid of some of the excess spending, but after the bill is passed, Obama could still slice out items and send them back to Congress to vote on again. He said he doubted that Congress would stand up to the president because his poll numbers are so high and lawmakers' ratings are so low.
While being critical of his own leadership, Cooper didn't spare any scorn for the Republican caucus with whom he voted. He said GOP lawmakers would still be "ungrateful" if Obama had given them everything they wanted in the stimulus.
"They're just in a snit because they lost the election," he said.