WASHINGTON - It was billed as a high-noon cease-fire between President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans, but the rare, private Capitol Hill meeting turned instead into a heated shootout at the notion that anyone in the room has bipartisan intentions this election year.
When Obama appealed for bipartisanship on legislation in the six months remaining before Election Day, freshman Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), confronted him, the senator later told reporters.
"I told him I thought there was a degree of audacity in him even showing up today after what happened with financial regulation," Corker said after the meeting. "I asked him how he was able to reconcile that duplicity, coming in today to see us."
Four people who were in the room said Obama bristled and defended his administration's handling of negotiations. Republicans have long complained that Democrats are using heavy-handed tactics to push though Obama's agenda.
On the way out, Obama approached Corker, according to the senator, who had been sitting just to the president's right, to press his case. Corker repeated his. "I mentioned that there was a very large disconnect between what he was saying and his actions," he told reporters.
Applause could be heard as the president exited. "It was a good, frank discussion about a whole range of issues," Obama told reporters.
That was one way of describing it, but Republicans leaving the meeting used other words.
"I think feelings are frayed, maybe, on both sides of the aisle," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).
The prospects for progress weren't high during a volatile election year in which every House seat, 36 in the Senate and Obama's clout are on the line. The testy atmosphere inside the Lyndon Baines Johnson Room reflected the anger constituents are lobbing at their representatives over key agenda items, from the government's economic stimulus to health care reform and now the handling of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he told Obama that he had mischaracterized Arizona's new immigration law as being "open to discrimination." "I pointed out that members of his administration who have not read the law have mischaracterized the law," McCain said afterward.