WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama paid a rare visit to Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill Tuesday, seeking their support on energy, immigration and other top priority measures. But he hit a buzz-saw of criticism and resentment that bodes poorly for the remainder of his legislative agenda.
In the tense closed-door meeting, Obama told lawmakers he did not want legislative business to grind to a halt just because an election was approaching, and he asked for their cooperation on ratifying the START treaty, confirming Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court and passing legislation to improve the economy.
But at least one angry Republican accused Obama of treating members of the opposition like political props, saying the president's bipartisan words repeatedly have been followed by partisan deeds on issues such as health care, economic stimulus and regulation of Wall Street.
"I told him I thought there was a degree of audacity in him showing up today," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who accused the administration of sabotaging efforts to write a bipartisan Wall Street bill. "I asked him how he was able to reconcile that duplicity."
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Obama's response to the GOP criticism showed he was so "thin skinned" that he should "take a Valium" before he comes to talk to Republicans again.
As Obama left the Capitol, he told reporters, "It was a good and frank exchange." Later, White House spokesman Bill Burton said the session was "civil in tone" and that Republican accounts of the meeting were overblown.
But the byplay underscored the suspicions that Obama faces even as he presses for legislation on which he dearly needs Republican support -- a bill now before the Senate to provide more funding for the war in Afghanistan.
The war is opposed by many liberals and, especially in the House, war spending will be almost impossible to pass without Republican votes.
Democratic leaders also are preparing for action on a $200 billion bill to promote job creation that will stall in the Senate unless it draws at least a modicum of Republican backing.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has backed out of earlier talks to reach a compromise on immigration overhaul, said he tried to acknowledge Obama's efforts to breach party divisions on those issues.
But his plan to provide an avenue to legalize millions of illegal immigrants was a nonstarter in the Senate, where it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster, Graham said.
"It was at times testy" Graham said of the meeting.