White House denies Durbin’s allegation of a GOP insult

Sen. DickDurbin (D-Ill.) at a news conference after successfully pushing a bipartisan bill through the U.S. Senate to restart the government and raise the debt limit at the U.S. Capitol October 16, 2013 in Washington, DC. The bill still needs to be approved by the house. If the bill is signed into law, it will fund the government until January 15, 2014 and allow the government to pay bills until February 7, 2014. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Sen. DickDurbin (D-Ill.) at a news conference   at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 16. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The White House on Wednesday denied an account of bitter negotiations during the recent government shutdown published by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), perhaps President Obama's closest ally on the Hill.

On Sunday, Durbin posted on his Facebook page a description of a recent meeting between Obama and House Republicans that drew immediate criticism — and denials — by GOP members who had attended it. Durbin wrote:

"Many Republicans searching for something to say in defense of the disastrous shutdown strategy will say President Obama just doesn't try hard enough to communicate with Republicans. But in a 'negotiation' meeting with the president, one GOP House Leader told the president: 'I cannot even stand to look at you.'

"What are the chances of an honest conversation with someone who has just said something so disrespectful?"

But on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that he had spoken to someone in the meeting who contradicted Durbin's account of what "one GOP House Leader" said to Obama.

"It did not happen," Carney told reporters at his daily briefing.

Durbin's office, in turn, says the White House is wrong.

“Senator Durbin stands by his comments,” Max Gleischman told the Washington Post.

The White House statement drew a strong reaction from House Republicans, who believed Durbin invented the comment to cast them as personally spiteful.

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), said in a statement that “Senator Durbin’s accusation is a serious one, and it appears to have been invented out of thin air."

"The senator should disclose who told him this account of events, retract his reckless allegation immediately and apologize," Buck said.

The back-and-forth presents an awkward situation for Obama and Durbin, who at one time represented Illinois together in the Senate. It also comes at a time, after the divisive government shutdown, when Obama is seeking to cool partisan passions and move ahead with his broader legislative agenda.

Ed O'Keefe contributed to this report. Originally posted at 3:12 p.m.

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Aaron Blake | October 23, 2013