Obama clashes with GOP, but promises to meet in the middle

Senate Republicans clashed with President Barack Obama during his visit with their caucus Tuesday on energy legislation, immigration reform and other issues.

“It was good,” Obama told reporters as he left the meeting. “We had a good, frank discussion on a whole range of issues.”

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) said his colleagues challenged the president over what they see as the partisan way he has pushed healthcare reform and Wall Street reform legislation. Brownback described the meeting as “testy.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) described it as a “spirited discussion.”

Obama told Republicans that we would be willing to meet them halfway or 75 percent of the way on some of the big issues remaining on his agenda.

When they pressed him to support specific GOP-favored proposals, he repeatedly said he is constrained because of pressure from his party’s liberal base.

Obama called on Republicans to help pass a $58.8 billion supplemental and a package of extended tax relief and unemployment aid by the end of the week.

Obama also asked Republicans to support his Supreme Court pick, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, and join him to advance immigration reform and energy and climate change legislation.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Obama that he must first secure the border with Mexico before Republicans will support a comprehensive reform package, according to GOP lawmakers in the meeting.

McCain told Obama that members of his administration were not helping the discussion on immigration reform by mischaracterizing a newly-passed Arizona law that empowers law enforcement to spot-check the identity documents of suspected illegal immigrants.

The president did not propose sending a specific number of border patrol officers and National Guard troops to the border, as some insiders had expected.

Obama called on Republicans to support energy and climate legislation sponsored by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), but Republicans pressed him to move a bipartisan energy-only bill sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), according to a GOP lawmaker in the room.

Despite the disagreements, the Republican senators applauded Obama at the end of the meeting.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) said his colleagues were “appreciative” of the president's visit but added the two sides spoke “candidly” to each other.