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Obama blasted for political posturing after meeting with Senate GOP

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Moderate GOP senator also confronts Obama over partisan tactics
  • GOP senator slams president for using Republicans as election year "props"
  • Obama meets with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill on Tuesday
  • The two sides address several issues, but indicate they remain far apart

Washington (CNN) -- A top Senate Republican accused President Barack Obama of engaging in hypocritical political posturing Tuesday after a closed door meeting between the president and Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill.

The meeting was portrayed by the White House as the latest in a series of presidential attempts to reach across the aisle despite Washington's harshly polarized political climate.

The White House characterized the meeting as productive, issuing a statement saying the two sides had addressed a broad range of issues. Among other things, Obama asked for GOP cooperation on a series of economic growth measures and ratification of the START nuclear arms reduction treaty. He also asked for cooperation on hot-button issues such as comprehensive immigration reform and climate change legislation.

The president "had a good exchange with the Senate Republican Conference today about priorities for the balance of the year," the statement noted. "Obviously, there were continued differences on some ... issues. But the president believes that direct dialogue is better than posturing, and he was pleased to have the opportunity to share views."

But Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, painted a less rosy picture of the encounter, telling CNN's Dana Bash that he accused the president during the meeting of taking an excessively partisan approach to critical issues such as financial reform, and then having the "audacity" to come to the Senate GOP conference and use the Republicans as election year "props."

"I said I realize we are props in this meeting and asked how do you reconcile that duplicity? It obviously hit a nerve," he said. "For the president to come in and for us not to have a frank conversation is a wasted opportunity."

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican relied on many times by the White House for GOP support, stopped Obama on his way out of the meeting and told him that she agreed with Corker and was glad her colleague had confronted the president, according to a source familiar with the moment.

The source said Collins was upset because she, too, tried to work with Democrats on financial reform. Like Corker, she was furious about a Washington Post story published Sunday that detailed efforts by the Obama administration to make passage of the so-called Wall Street reform bill a partisan process.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, differed in his assessment, telling reporters the meeting included "a candid exchange on both sides ... [and] was certainly worthwhile." But he also slammed the president for adopting a strategy that he characterized as the pursuit of "far-left" legislation while cherry-picking a few Republicans on each issue.

"If he wants to meet us in the middle ... obviously we'd be happy to do that," McConnell said.

Several sources characterized the meeting as tense at times and indicated that several Republicans became frustrated.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, used the meeting to reiterate his recent message that comprehensive immigration reform will not be possible until the U.S.-Mexico border is more effectively secured. McCain, who has worked closely with Democrats on the issue in the past, is facing a tough conservative primary challenge this year partly due to those efforts.

McCain slammed the White House for "mischaracterizing" his state's new immigration law. The measure allows law enforcement officers to ask for proof of legal residency of anyone who is being investigated for a crime or possible legal infraction. Critics argue it will lead to anti-Hispanic racial profiling.

Obama "said he still believed [the law] was open to discrimination," McCain said. "I pointed out that members of his administration who have not read the law have mischaracterized the law. It was a very egregious act on their part."

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, said most of the Republicans talked about "jobs, debt and terror" with the president. On the majority of issues, he said, "we simply have a large difference of opinion that's not likely to be settled until November."

Political analysts have questioned whether the House and Senate will have the political will to tackle many more major issues in light of the looming midterm elections. Congress is inching closer to passage of financial reform legislation, and the Senate is expected to take up Solicitor General Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination in a few weeks.

CNN's Dana Bash, Ted Barrett and Alan Silverleib contributed to this report