DECORAH, Iowa – President Obama got into a heated back-and-forth Monday with a Tea Party activist who demanded to know at the end of a town hall meeting here whether Vice President Biden had called Tea Partiers “terrorists” during the debt ceiling debate on Capitol Hill.
In public, Obama did not directly answer the question from Iowa Tea Party activist Ryan Rhodes about Biden. But Obama fired back that he knows better than anyone what it’s like to be slammed for his political views and was not about to accept a lecture on the topic.
“Now, in fairness, since I’ve been called a socialist who wasn’t born in this country, who is destroying America and taking away its freedoms because I passed a health care bill, I’m all for lowering the rhetoric," Obama said.
Obama did say he would discuss the matter further with Rhodes, founder of the Iowa Tea Party, after the event. And the duo was spotted in an animated conversation a few moments later.
In an interview later with Fox News, Rhodes claimed that the president had insisted that Biden had not made the original comment.
“He just denied it. He said the vice president didn't make any of those assertions,” Rhodes said. “If he doesn’t want to even admit what was on TV nationally -- all over the place -- then how can you have a conversation?”
Rhodes added that Obama brushed him aside. “Then he said, ‘We can't have a conversation because you're saying I called you a terrorist,’” recalled Rhodes. “The fact is it demonstrates the deep divide that he is unwilling to negotiate without going after the other side. The whole day was about going after Republicans and talking about how unreasonable they are.”
The private conversation between Rhodes and Obama was partially picked up by a TV camera, but the audio was tough to make out. Obama in general seemed to be saying the incident with Biden was misconstrued and that if Rhodes wanted to insist that the word “terrorist” was used then they were never going to see eye to eye.
The incident stems from a private meeting Biden attended, at the height of the debt ceiling debate, with House Democrats who were angry that Republicans were not meeting the president halfway. One lawmaker, Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., went so far as to say that Republicans affiliated with the Tea Party had behaved like “terrorists” during the debate.
Some Democrats familiar with the meeting said at the time that Biden had appeared to agree with the sentiment expressed by Doyle and others as a way of moving the conversation along and convincing Democrats to support the final compromise. But Biden himself denied to CBS News that he had uttered the word “terrorist” in the meeting in the context of the Tea Party.
Here in Iowa, some people in the crowd seemed to be unhappy with Rhodes. One woman was overheard confronting him by saying, “That was extraordinarily rude” to the president.
A second woman who did not want to be identified by name said she felt the exchange was “over the top aggressive.”
But Rhodes was not backing down. “I said my piece,” he said.