By Dana Milbank
Monday, December 14, 2009; 5:56 PM
President Obama, in an interview broadcast Sunday night, called them "fat cats" who "still don't get it." But after CEOs of the nation's largest banks met at the White House with Obama on Monday morning, they came out purring.
"It was very productive," said Richard Davis of U.S. Bank, who did most of the talking for Bank of New York's Bob Kelly and PNC's Jim Rohr. "It was a very productive meeting."
Ed Chen of Bloomberg News tried to get beyond this standard description. "What was the greatest areas of disagreement?" he inquired.
"There wasn't a lot of disagreement."
Had the fat cats somehow declawed Obama? One would expect he'd have been in an even worse mood after learning that a few of the bankers he summoned to the White House were no-shows, having been grounded in New York by fog. But the trio of bankers who did come out to the microphones in the White House driveway following the meeting acted as if the session had been all nuzzling.
ABC's Jake Tapper asked if Obama had told them in person that "you just don't get it." Asked Tapper: "Was he irritated? Did he express anger?"
"The whole meeting was very productive. It really was....The productive conversation allowed us align our thinking and be more in line with each other as we talk to the American public."
This was not very productive. "If you agree so much with the president that something needs to be done," pressed CNN's Ed Henry, "where's the lending?"
"We do agree. But there's also a time and place," came the reply.
Chip Reid of CBS News had heard about enough. "Are you saying the meeting was productive and pleasant after he called you fat cats that don't get it?"
"He didn't call us any names, and it was productive....It was not a moment where we all went around and celebrated the holidays."
To hear the fat cats tell it, they've been doing things right all along -- they just haven't done a good job of communicating their good intentions. Davis said the plan was to "do a better job in telling our story for executive compensation and, most importantly, that we do support regulatory reform. We haven't done a good job of sharing that."
Maybe that's because huge bonuses continue to be paid out and banking lobbyists are fighting tooth and nail against any regulatory reform on Capitol Hill?
That would not be a productive topic for discussion.
Davis turned tail. "I think we're done," he said.