Spirited Discussion Between Obama and Senate GOP


Senate Republicans took on President Barack Obama Tuesday on a number of fronts as the two testy political rivals came together for a one hour and fifteen minute feisty give and take.

Obama came in with a laundry list of items he would like to finish this year, including jobs legislation, an emergency supplemental spending bill, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, and climate change and immigration measures, promising Republicans he would meet them "halfway."

But bipartisanship was not what Sen. Bob Corker, R-TN, had on his mind. For months, he has railed against what he called White House interference in bipartisan financial regulatory reform negotiations, in which the senator was deeply involved. And Tuesday, he said he let Obama have it.

"I told him I thought there was a degree of audacity in him even showing up today after what happened with financial regulation," Corker recounted to reporters after the meeting. "I asked him how he was able to reconcile that duplicity, coming in today to see us."

Obama, according to one senator, "appeared offended" and defended his Administration's reform effort.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-KS, said Republicans conveyed to Obama that they feel that everything, especially health care and financial reform, has been "as far left as it can be," to which the President noted that he was experiencing an inordinate amount of "pressure from my left." Brownback said the President repeated this sentiment "several times."

The first question from Louisiana's Sen. David Vitter was on the BP oil spill, but it appears the topic of immigration consumed a good deal of time and heat in the meeting.

Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, Obama's rival in the 2008 presidential race, represented the conference on this issue and pushed the president to send more national guardsmen to the border with Mexico. McCain told Fox afterward that Obama "didn't agree," though the White House announced just after that it is preparing to send 1,200 new guardsmen to the border, according to an Arizona congresswoman.

McCain said he brought up the Arizona immigration law, and Obama, who said he had read the law (unlike his Attorney General and Homeland Security secretary), told Republicans that he believes the law will still allow discrimination.

It's abundantly clear this was a spirited discussion with lots of people chiming in. They ran out of time for questions, according to Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-ME, who said she wanted to ask a small business question but could not.

One senator even took notes, showing them to reporters afterward. "I just kept writing 'thin skin, thin skin, thin skin'," Sen. Pat Roberts, R-KS, noted to reporters, saying Obama got "a warm reception at first."

Roberts said Obama was not able to take constructive criticism, adding that when Obama gets upset he "tends to lecture."

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-AL, called it a “frank exchange” and said “there is a feeling on all the major items, basically, they’ve been moved through a partisan vote.” He said, “I think feelings are frayed on both sides of the aisle.”

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, for his part, said he told Obama there is one item, in particular, where there could be bipartisan agreement: Iran sanctions. Saying there is "overwhelming bipartisan support for sanctions," McConnell said he is "perplexed" at the Administration's lack of support for the measure.

"This is a rare bill that could make a difference, sanctions that could bite," McConnell said.

*Fox's John Brandt contributed to this story.