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At President Obama's talks with Senate Republicans, little is accomplished

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By Paul Kane and Shailagh Murray
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

President Obama went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for a rare meeting with Senate Republicans, but the 75-minute session yielded little progress on hot-button topics and left some senators with bruised feelings.

"He needs to take a Valium before he comes in and talks to Republicans," Sen. Pat Roberts (Kan.) told reporters. "He's pretty thin-skinned."

Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.) described the meeting as "testy," and Sen. John Thune (S.D.) called it a "lively discussion." Others questioned whether the "symbolism" of Obama's approach matched the actions of his Democratic congressional allies.

In his first meeting with the Senate Republican caucus in more than a year, Obama hoped to secure support on a broad range of issues, including immigration. As he left, the president said, "We had a good, frank discussion on a whole range of issues."

But his spokesman Robert Gibbs acknowledged that little agreement was reached. "Obviously, there were continued differences on some of these issues. But the president believes that direct dialogue is better than posturing, and he was pleased to have the opportunity to share views with the conference," Gibbs said.

Brownback said Obama explained several times that he is "under pressure from his left" on major issues, including climate change. Obama asked Republicans to be willing to take some of the same kind of criticism from their right flank in working toward bipartisan accords, other senators said.

Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), still smarting over his failed negotiations with Democrats over the financial regulation bill that the Senate approved last week, said he challenged Obama on his request for bipartisan cooperation.

"I've always found it's good to be frank. If you have an opportunity to talk to someone, you should talk about what's on your mind," Corker told reporters. He questioned "the audacity" of Obama's asking for GOP help Tuesday after bipartisan talks on financial reform broke down and his health-care overhaul passed solely on Democratic votes.

"My question is again: How can you reconcile that duplicity? You say that, but then the big issues have been constructed in such a way to absolutely be partisan," Corker said. "How can you come in on a Tuesday after [the financial bill vote]? . . . It was odd to me."


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