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White House: Our bad, not Durbin’s

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Updated: November 26, 2013 6:37AM

WASHINGTON — After throwing Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) under the bus, the White House on Thursday took back a slam by Press Secretary Jay Carney over an alleged insult to President Barack Obama by a GOP House leader.

“Let me just say that yesterday I was simply saying that the quote attributed to a Republican lawmaker in the House GOP meeting with the president was not accurate,” Carney said at the briefing.

“I wasn’t accusing anybody of anything — and that what I can tell you is that there was a miscommunication when the White House” briefed about that meeting to “Senate Democrats, and we regret the misunderstanding.”

This bizarre episode should serve as a lesson to all political figures punching out quick thoughts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

This also throws a spotlight on the shabby treatment the White House gave to one of Obama’s staunchest allies by making a damning statement about Durbin before all the facts were on the table.

Durbin has had Obama’s back since the day he became president. Durbin took him around Illinois as an unknown Senate candidate in 2004; he urged Obama to run for the White House in 2007, and Durbin did the heavy lifting representing Illinois in Congress while Obama was criss-crossing the country campaigning for president.

I am not defending Durbin’s Sunday Facebook post that got this ball rolling. That’s when he wrote about a meeting GOP leaders had at the White House with Obama. Durbin used a thunderbolt of a blind quote: “In a ‘negotiation’ meeting with the president, one GOP House Leader told the president: ‘I cannot even stand to look at you.’ ”

On Wednesday, Carney was asked about Durbin’s post. He said, “I looked into this and spoke with somebody who was in that meeting, and it did not happen.”

Carney’s emphatic denial was unusual because he rarely speaks with such declarative frankness.

Durbin stood by his quote and left it on his Facebook page.

At issue is an Oct. 10 meeting Obama had with 18 GOP House leaders in the midst of the partial federal government shutdown and debt-ceiling crisis.

On Thursday morning, I reported — as did the Huffington Post — that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid related the story with the stinging quote at a meeting of all the Senate Democrats.

The GOP lawmaker in question is Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), several outlets reported. His office is denying that he made the comment. CNN reported later Thursday that the story traveled from White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors to Reid to the meeting of the Senate Democrats.

After the White House statement came out, Durbin wrote on Facebook, “I appreciate this clarification from the White House that explains recent conflicting reports on the GOP quote. It is important now to move beyond the unfortunate events of the last few weeks and work together constructively so that we’re not faced with another shutdown showdown or debt-ceiling debacle.”

But this chapter may not be over. Brendan Buck a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wrote — on Twitter, of course — “Sincerely appreciate the White House clearing this up. Now just hope Senators Reid and Durbin do the right thing.”


Twitter: @lynnsweet

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