PHOENIX — President Obama and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) appeared to exchange heated words in front of reporters and other public officials on Wednesday as Obama arrived in this Southwestern city for the second stop of his post-State of the Union tour.
The unusual confrontation--which included Brewer pointing her finger at Obama, and Obama walking away--centered on Brewer’s newly published account of a meeting she and Obama had at the White House in June, 2010, officials said.
Obama descended the stairs of Air Force One and was greeted by Brewer, who was waiting for him along with other politicians in a traditional receiving line. Brewer offered Obama a letter, which she later said was an invitation to sit down with her to discuss Arizona’s economic “comeback” and to join her for a tour of the U.S.-Mexican border.
The president told Brewer he would be happy to meet with her, a White House aide said, but also informed the governor that he thought she had been inaccurate in describing their earlier session in the Oval Office.
Brewer’s book, “Scorpions for Breakfast: My Fight Against Special Interests, Liberal Media, and Cynical Politicos to Secure the Border,’’ details her conservative approach to dealing with the state’s illegal immigration challenges. A review published in the Arizona Republic said that Brewer casts Obama as “condescending” and skewers him repeatedly. Although she originally described their Oval Office meeting as cordial, the newspaper said, “in the book she calls the president ‘patronizing’ and said ‘he lectured me.’ ”
“He didn’t feel that I had treated him cordially” in the book, Brewer told reporters Wednesday. “I said to him that I have all the respect in the world for the office of the president. The book is what the book is. I asked him if he read the book. He said he read the excerpt.”
In an excerpt available on Amazon, Brewer defends Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 immigration law that she signed into law in 2010, but whose toughest provisions were overturned by a federal judge.
Brewer writes that Obama “has repeatedly made fun of those of us who want to see the law enforced, saying we want a ‘moat’ with ‘alligators’ in it around our country. The reason he has resorted to these failed attempts at humor, I think, is that he supports a policy that is fundamentally undemocratic, and he knows it.”
She and Obama appeared to be talking over each other on the tarmac, as other Arizona officials looked on. The exchange ended when Obama abruptly walked away, as Brewer appeared to still be speaking.
Asked about the conversation, Brewer told the reporters that Obama was “a little disturbed” about her account of their meeting. A White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private conversation, said Obama told Brewer she “inaccurately described the meeting in her book.”
Brewer said she told Obama that she was sorry he felt slighted “but I didn’t get my sentence finished.”
Just a day earlier, at the State of the Union Address, Obama had a much warmer exchange with an Arizona politician from his own party, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
But with Brewer, one of the nation’s most outspoken critics of federal immigration policy, what was supposed to be a standard photo-op quickly morphed into a confrontation.
“I thought we probably would’ve talked about the things that were important to him and important to me, helping one another,” Brewer said later. “Our country is upside down. Arizona was upside down. But we have turned it around. I know again that he loves this country and I love this country.”
After ending the exchange with Brewer, Obama moved on in the receiving line, where he was greeted without incident by Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and Mesa Mayor Scott Smith. He then headed for an Intel factory that manufactures microprocessors.
“Anyway, we’re glad he’s here,” a shaken Brewer said. “I’ll regroup.”