President Barack Obama and Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) engaged in a pointed exchange Tuesday during a bipartisan meeting on an energy overhaul, according to a GOP source.
The dust-up at the White House occurred when Alexander recommended that addressing the ongoing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico be a part of any discussion on national energy policy. According to the source, Obama accused Alexander of raising a “talking point” and said the oil spill was not the topic of the meeting.
Alexander responded that suggesting the oil spill be addressed in a meeting about energy policy wasn’t a talking point, but his opinion. In a brief interview following the White House meeting, Alexander downplayed the notion that the exchange was heated, noting that Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) also raised the subject of the Gulf oil spill.
“I didn’t sense that [Obama] was unhappy,” Alexander said. “I spoke toward the end, and most of the conversation had been about clean energy.”
According to Alexander, Obama said that there already was agreement on how to address the oil spill and that the purpose of the White House meeting was to find common ground on energy and climate legislation. Alexander indicated that he sensed no animosity on Obama’s part and that they simply had a difference of opinion on whether the topic of the oil spill was relevant to the meeting.
“I said, Mr. President, the first order of business is to make sure that we in the Congress in a bipartisan way give you the people, money and equipment you need to clean up the oil spill, to stop the leak and help the people who are hurting,'” Alexander said, adding: “My feel is, the American people would expect that any discussion we have about energy ought to start with, how do we clean up the mess in the Gulf, how do we stop the leak, and how do we help the people that are hurting?”
“What he said,” Alexander continued, “was that we had a consensus on the importance of the oil spill and that this was a meeting about clean energy.”