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Republican Senators Call Obama Insulated, Aloof

Bill Clark/Roll Call
President Barack Obama, shown leaving a meeting with Senate Republicans on Tuesday, enjoyed a generally respectful audience, but the two sides talked past each other.

Senate Republicans emerging from a private meeting with President Barack Obama on Tuesday painted a picture of an insulated chief executive out of touch with the American people and oblivious to the political realities of Capitol Hill.

Republican leaders said they were pleased that the president requested the meeting and hope that he makes such gatherings more of a habit. But interviews with rank-and-file GOP Senators made clear the meeting was tense, yielding no progress on major issues or even a general warming of relations.

“He wants to do immigration, climate change — all before we go home. He’s a very ambitious guy,” Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) said. “He’s got to step back and see what the country is ready for. That’s the problem.”

“I think it was significant that the president came to see us. It’s been infrequent,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) added. “It’s clear that he is relying on other people for the information and the positions that are being taken with regard to legislation on the floor, and I would say it appeared to be he was somewhat insulated from what actually is going on.”

Senate Republicans said prior to the meeting that they were most interested in hearing Obama’s plans for job creation and deficit reduction. But the president focused on immigration reform, climate change and his desire to move legislation before the midterm elections. Obama also discussed foreign policy, the Gulf oil spill and aiding small businesses.

Obama took about a dozen questions from Senators following his opening remarks, and that’s when the session turned confrontational, albeit respectful.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) asked the president to support a bipartisan Iran sanctions bill that his administration has so far resisted; Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.) raised Obama’s health care law as an example of White House policies exacerbating the federal deficit and the national debt; and Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) complained to Obama that he has been insufficiently bipartisan. Corker called the exchange “testy.”

“I said, ‘I have to tell you, there’s a degree of audacity in you being here today,” Corker said. “You’ve passed three major bills, all of which were almost down party lines.”

Corker said he singled out financial regulatory reform as a prime example of a lost opportunity for bipartisanship.

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