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GOP: Obama Never Confirmed Meeting With Us

President Obama makes an opening statement during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington Nov. 3, 2010. AP Photo

Updated 12:29 p.m. Eastern Time

The White House sent an email around 6:30 p.m. yesterday saying that a planned meeting tomorrow involving President Obama and the top congressional leaders had been postponed at the request of Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. John Boehner, the likely Speaker in the new GOP-controlled House.

The White House attributed the decision to move the meeting to November 30th "to scheduling conflicts" that Republicans faced "in organizing their caucuses."

But Republicans are asserting that they had never agreed to the meeting in the first place.

It "wasn't postponed; the date was never set in stone," McConnell spokesman Don Stewart told CBS News.

Both publicly and privately, Republicans are complaining that the White House never asked if the November 18th date worked for them, instead simply announcing that the meeting would take place that day. They said the date was essentially unworkable from the beginning, since Republicans would be busy this week welcoming new members and organizing their caucuses.

The spin is easy to understand: Republicans, eager to shed perceptions that they are little more than a "party of no," don't want to look as though they are shrugging off an opportunity to meet with the president to find areas of agreement. The White House, meanwhile, doesn't want to seem as though it arrogantly set a date for the meeting without checking with the participants.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Win McNamee

Here's what a Democratic official told Politico's Playbook: "I don't know if they're trying to show their power -- that they can refuse to meet with the president -- or if they have internal problems and don't know what they want to say. Either way, it sends a really bad signal. When the president wants to meet with you to talk about jobs and the lame duck, you make the time to do it. He keeps extending the hand of friendship, and they keep slapping it away."

And a Republican leadership aide in the Senate: "This would've been easier had they checked schedules on the front end instead of announcing meetings from the podium."

Among the likely topics for discussion are the possible extension of the Bush tax cuts for those making more than $250,000, something Mr. Obama opposes and Republicans support; the START nuclear treaty with Russia, which Mr. Obama wants ratified before the end of the year for fear it will fall apart otherwise; and efforts to reduce America's massive budget deficit.

"We'll have a meeting so that we can discuss issues that Republicans have long said can be accomplished together. These include reducing spending, growing jobs through increased trade and increasing domestic energy," McConnell spokesman Stewart said.

Mr. Obama announced the meeting, which will also include top Democratic leaders, two days after the election, stating that he had "already called Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to invite them to a meeting here at the White House in the first week of the lame duck -- on November 18th." Boehner's office quickly objected, but the White House suggested it would work out the details and stuck to the November 18th date.

According to Politico, Republicans are wary of a repeat of the summit in January in Baltimore in which Mr. Obama was calm and in control in an on-camera question-and-answer session with GOP House members. (Politico describes the event as "a humiliating rebuke to House Republicans.")

That event, which was broadcast after a last-minute request by the White House, "has left a lingering distrust of Obama invitations and a wariness about accommodating every scheduling request emanating from the West Wing," according to GOP aides. (The position, it should be noted, is somewhat odd in light of the fact that Republicans invited the president to the meeting.)

Speaking to reporters today, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs cast the agreement to move the meeting as a "first test of being able to work together."

"They asked to move the date. We agreed. Bipartisanship has happened," he said.


Brian Montopoli is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.
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