White House says it was behind Durbin ‘miscommunication’
By Russell Berman and Amie Parnes - 10/24/13 12:25 PM ET
The White House on Thursday said it was behind a miscommunication that caused Senate Democrats to think a Republican lawmaker told President Obama at a private budget meeting, “I can’t even stand to look at you.”
For a second day in a row, the White House said the incident did not happen, but Thursday it also apologized for the confusion and accepted blame.
“While the quote attributed to a Republican lawmaker in the House GOP meeting with the president is not accurate, there was a miscommunication when the White House read out that meeting to Senate Democrats, and we regret the misunderstanding,” a White House official said.
Washington had been trying to figure out who made the remark since earlier this week, when Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) first mentioned the comment in a post on his Facebook site.
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday said the incident did not happen, prompting Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office to ask for an apology and a retraction from Durbin.
Instead, Durbin stood by his story, and The Huffington Post published a separate piece that said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) discussed the incident at a meeting of Senate Democrats, saying it had been conveyed to him by a White House aide.
After Democratic Senate officials began whispering to reporters that it was Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) who made the comment to Obama, reporters confronted Sessions off the floor on Wednesday night.
Sessions, the chairman of the House Rules Committee, adamantly denied the allegation and referred to Carney shooting down Durbin's Facebook post during a briefing.
The meeting in question occurred during the height of the government shutdown when 20 House Republicans went to the White House to urge Obama to engage in negotiations.
Sessions confirmed he had spoken up at the meeting when the president pressed Republicans for “the fourth time” to tell him what it would take to end the shutdown.
He said he reminded Obama that leaders need to constantly try to find consensus.
“I told the president that I believed there needed to be a reevaluation of a leadership role toward that end,” Sessions said. “It’s as simple as that.”
“The president of the United States said it was the fourth time [he had] asked about feedback about whether we’re headed down the right pathway or not, in essence, how are you going to handle this thing,” Sessions added. “I was just providing feedback that leaders lead.”
Pressed by reporters if he might have said something like the quote referenced by Durbin, he replied, “There is no way.”
Growing agitated, he even suggested the White House had taped the meeting without Republicans' knowledge or consent. Still, he denied insulting the president.
"It is an absolute denial, and I already told you I didn’t say it," Sessions said before walking away.