Alexander: Obama White House is ‘absolutely tone deaf’ on bipartisanship

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderTaylor Swift thanks Cory Booker for signing Equality Act petition Taylor Swift thanks Cory Booker for signing Equality Act petition Senate health panel to move forward on package to lower health costs next week MORE (R-Tenn.) said Thursday the Obama White House is “absolutely tone-deaf” on bipartisanship.

In a C-SPAN “Newsmakers” interview, Alexander said he is “puzzled” by how President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaCampaign dads fit fatherhood between presidential speeches Trump: Obama 'had to know' of 'setup' to block presidential bid 2020 Democrats mark 7th anniversary of DACA MORE works with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

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“On the big issues, on healthcare, on so-called financial regulation, the stimulus, the White House has been absolutely tone-deaf to bipartisanship,” Alexander said.

Alexander’s remarks come just days after a testy meeting Senate Republicans had with the president earlier this week. The Tennessee legislator said Republicans always welcome the president, but noted that Obama didn’t say why he was coming “so there wasn’t any real effort” to engage with Republicans.

A White House spokesman did not comment by press time.

Alexander, who is regarded as a centrist Republican, challenged Obama several times during the bipartisan healthcare summit at the White House in February. Obama fired back that Alexander’s claims on how the health bill would increase premiums “are not factually accurate.”

“I have a good, personal relationship with the president. I served with him. I like him,” Alexander said. “But as far as my ability to be involved in his objectives, they’re limited.”

The former Tennessee governor did give credit to Obama’s education and energy secretaries for working with him on various issues, but said the White House is the problem.

“Either the White House doesn’t want to work in a bipartisan way on the big issues or doesn’t know how,” he said.

He speculated that the White House would pay more attention to Senate Republicans if there were more of them in the upper chamber next year.

Expressing confidence about the elections, Alexander said people want to vote against the “rascals” in Washington, adding that most of the rascals in Washington are Democrats. However, Alexander refrained from predicting the GOP will win control of the Senate this year.

Alexander also took direct aim at the president on the massive oil spill in the Gulf Coast.

“There is a lot of talk about presidential responsibility in terms of the oil spill. We faced this before, after the Exxon Valdez spill, so I decided to look carefully at the law to see what it says. In 1990, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act, and it says the president shall ‘ensure’ that oil spills are cleaned up and that he have the ‘personnel and equipment’ to do it. That is the president’s responsibility.”

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Alexander, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, acknowledged that congressional Republicans are split on earmark reforms.

“We have differences of opinion [with House Republicans],” Alexander said.

Alexander, an appropriator, strongly defended the use of earmarks, but said they should be made more transparent.

He argued that “earmarks don’t save a penny,” saying “every specific appropriation that I might put in to say, repair the Wolf Creek Dam, reduces another appropriation in the budget.

“The real debt problem deals with entitlement spending,” he said.

Asked if he wants to move up the leadership ladder, Alexander smiled and said he has “topped out.”

“I like where I am,” Alexander said.

The 69-year-old Alexander, who twice ran for president, laughed when pressed on whether he will run again in 2012 and indicated he will not mount a White House bid.

The C-SPAN interview will air on Sunday at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.