Senior Democratic and Republican aides are sparring over whether GOP leaders sounded a newly conciliatory tone in Tuesday’s meeting with President Barack Obama.
Aides in both parties agreed privately that there was no real progress made in the high-profile huddle between Obama and Hill leaders at the White House.
But some Democratic aides said GOP leaders acknowledged privately that they are going to have to make more of an effort to work with Democrats than they did in the past two years. “There was a measurable attitude shift by the Republicans,” one senior Democratic aide said. “We will see how long that lasts.”
The president emerged from the meeting with nothing but praise for the tenor of discussions, saying he felt "a sincere effort on the part of everybody involved to actually commit to work together."
He noted that the tone became more conciliatory once staff left the room for about half an hour. "In a private meeting that I had without staff, you know, without betraying any confidences, I was pleased to see several of my friends in the room say, let's try not to duplicate [a partisan mindset]. Let's not try to work the Washington spin cycle to suggest that somehow the other side's not being cooperative."
White House senior adviser David Axelrod said later that Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, who has rejected Obama's overtures to gain the Arizona Republican’s support for passing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in the lame-duck Congress, didn’t draw a line in the sand on the issue during the meeting. "I'm not sure that Sen. Kyl, at the end of the day, isn't going to support the START treaty. I didn't hear that. He was in that room today. I didn't hear that today," Axelrod said on MSNBC's "Hardball."
Republican aides pushed back on the idea that their party leaders were softening their stance when it comes to advancing their agenda. “What a ridiculous assertion,” one GOP leadership aide said.
“We’re taking control of the House in January and our numbers improved in the Senate. The meeting, from what I understand, was a realization by the president and Congressional Democrats that they can no longer ram things through Congress and down the throats of the American people,” this aide said.
Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio), also rejected the idea that GOP leaders conveyed to Obama that they will be more than the “party of no.”
“Republican leaders did not ‘signal that they will do more than say no to things.’ They would not, since we have always offered better solutions, rooted in our principles, on every major issue,” Steel said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.