House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, emerges from the office of Speaker of the House John Boehner, Oct. 15. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
No solid proof yet, but the issue is getting hotter…
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told his Democratic caucus last week in a private meeting that a top House Republican said to President Barack Obama, “I cannot even stand to look at you,” according to two Democratic senators who were present.
The account was confirmed by two Senate Democratic aides who said they independently learned of the exchange from other senators.
A White House official said Thursday that the administration did relay such a message to Reid, but that it was the result of a miscommunication.
“While the quote attributed to a Republican lawmaker in the House GOP meeting with the President is not accurate, there was a miscommunication when the White House read out that meeting to Senate Democrats, and we regret the misunderstanding,” the official said in a statement.
Asked to clarify, then, what the White House originally told Senate Democratic leaders about Obama’s meeting with House Republicans, the official said only, “Not going to read out the details of private meetings with the President, or private meetings between WH and Dem leaders.”
The two senators who spoke to HuffPost did not hear the Republican make the remark, but said a top White House aide who was present later told Senate Democratic leaders that the lawmaker who made the remark was Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Rules Committee.
Reid then told the caucus about the incident on Tuesday and named Sessions, according to one of the two Democratic senators who spoke to HuffPost. Reid also told the caucus that he was “sorry” to have to tell them about it, per this senator, but gave Obama credit for his “dignified” response to Sessions. Reid reportedly told the caucus that Obama responded to Sessions by saying he understood that they disagreed on many issues and he respected their differences.
The revelation from the senators sheds new light on a Capitol Hill whodunit that burst into the public sphere when Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) shared the exchange onhis Facebook page on Sunday. The alleged incident took place in the throes of the government shutdown, when Obama was meeting with different factions of lawmakers to try to find a resolution to the debacle. (Neither of the two senators who spoke to HuffPost are Durbin.)
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney flatly dismissed the story.
“I looked into this and spoke with somebody who was in that meeting and it did not happen,” Carney said during his daily briefing.
Sessions spokeswoman Torrie Miller said Thursday that the lawmaker never made those comments.
“He did not,” Miller said. “I think it was made clear yesterday from Jay Carney that the exchange you are referring to did not happen.”
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), has been demanding an apology from Durbin.
“Senator Durbin’s accusation is a serious one, and it appears to have been invented out of thin air,” Buck said in a Wednesday statement. “The senator should disclose who told him this account of events, retract his reckless allegation immediately, and apologize.”
But Durbin isn’t backing down from his original claims.
“Sen. Durbin stands by his comments,” Durbin spokesman Max Gleischman told HuffPost Wednesday.
A request for comment from a spokesman for Reid was not returned.
This story has been updated with comment from a senior White House official.