WASHINGTON — If President Obama thought having a private lunch with Republican senators would ease partisan tensions in Congress, he grabbed the wrong recipe.
The president walked into a remarkably contentious 80-minute session Tuesday in which GOP senators accused him of duplicity, audacity and unbending partisanship. Lawmakers said the testy exchange left legislative logjams intact, and one GOP leader said nothing is likely to change before the November elections.
Obama's sharpest accuser was Bob Corker of Tennessee, a first-term senator who feels the administration undermined his efforts to craft a bipartisan financial regulation bill.
"I told him I thought there was a degree of audacity in him even showing up today after what happened with financial regulation," Corker told reporters.
"I just wanted him to tell me how, when he wakes up in the morning, comes over to a luncheon like ours today, how does he reconcile that duplicity?"
Four people who were in the room said Obama bristled and defended his administration's handling of negotiations. On the way out, Corker said, Obama approached him and both men repeated their main points.
"I told him there was a tremendous disconnect from his words and the actions of his administration," Corker said.
White House spokesman Bill Burton, who attended the session in the Capitol, said the exchange "was actually pretty civil."
The senators applauded Obama, who had requested the luncheon, when he entered and left the room. Obama told reporters as he departed, "It was a good, frank discussion about a whole range of issues."
Some Republicans were less kind.
"He needs to take a Valium before he comes in and talks to Republicans," Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told reporters. "He's pretty thin-skinned."
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said he addressed Obama, "trying to demand overdue action" on the giant oil spill damaging Gulf coast states. He said got "no specific response" except Obama's pledge to have an authoritative White House official call him within hours.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Obama's 2008 presidential opponent, said he pressed the president on immigration issues. McCain said he told Obama "we need to secure the border first" before taking other steps. "The president didn't agree," he said.
Later, McCain said his views were unchanged by Obama's decision to send an additional 1,200 National Guard troops to boost security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
After the luncheon, no one suggested the two parties were even a smidgen closer to resolving differences over energy, immigration and other issues that Obama has said he wants to act on this year.
"We simply have a large difference of opinion that's not likely to be settled until November about taxes, spending and the debt," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.