A New Rx for Bipartisanship

Jillian Bandes

5/26/2010 10:37:27 PM - Jillian Bandes

Obama had lunch with Senate Republicans on Tuesday, but the conversation that transpired was enough to make you lose your lunch. According to reports, the President went plumb crazy when it came time to talk about bipartisanship and legislative policy.

"The more he talked, the more he got upset," Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told Politico. “He needs to take a Valium before he comes in and talks to Republicans and just calm down, and don’t take anything so seriously. If you disagree with someone, it doesn’t mean you’re attacking their motives — and he takes it that way and tends then to lecture and then gets upset.”

Rush Limbaugh

That quote led one journalist to quip that Valium was on the lunch menu. But perhaps Valium wasn’t even necessary; it was only the second time the President has actually made time to meet with Republicans in an official capacity, and no one really expected much to come of the meeting anyway. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), ever conscious of decorum, said that he appreciated the president reaching out, but in the same breath acknowledged that he didn’t expect any actual compromises to be made. In other words, the event was clearly just for show.

That didn’t stop politicians from putting on a show, with a number of reportedly heated exchanges taking place during the 90-minute event. News reporters weren't actually allowed into the meeting, but no one seemed to have any trouble getting their hands on juicy information afterward.

Things initially went swimmingly during the opening remarks, where both Obama and Republican leaders jubilantly gushed about their desire to solve today’s pressing political issues. But as soon as it came time to talk about the specifics of how to go about doing that, the situation got messy. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., recalled his exchange with the president:

“I said, ‘I got to tell you something, there’s a degree of audacity in you being here today’... If you look at your three major initiatives they were almost all done on party-line votes. I feel we’re all props here today.”

The main issue that led to the “props” comment was immigration. The president lobbied for legislation to solve the problem, but didn’t offer any substantive solutions. So Republicans did a full-court press and pushed for troops to be sent to the U.S.-Mexican border. Shortly thereafter, Obama announced the deployment of 1,200 National Guard troops to Arizona.

Afterward, Sen. John McCain upped the ante and called for the deployment of 6,000 troops. Other border states – less politically important, perhaps – were left out of the discussion. Gov. Rick Perry, who was not in attendance, has not heard back from a request for troops that is over a year old. And Obama has continued to avoid passing any kind of comprehensive immigration reform.

The discussion extended from immigration to other issues on the national agenda. Sen. Jon Barrasso, R-Wy., hammered Obama on the health care bill and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., yelled at Obama about the gulf oil spill.

Unlike the first meeting with Republicans, this exchange was not televised. It seems that Washington’s politicians have learned that if they’re going to behave like children, they’d better do it behind closed doors.