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White House downplays postponement of bipartisan summit

Leaders dismiss speculation that Republicans putting off the meeting until Nov. 30 signals a failure of the ability of the parties to work together. And although the meeting is postponed, there will be free Slurpees.

November 17, 2010|By Michael A. Memoli and Peter Nicholas, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Are Republicans so at odds with the White House that simply scheduling a face-to-face meeting is a challenge?

Both parties denied such speculation Tuesday, saying the postponement of a meeting planned for Thursday between President Obama and congressional leaders from both parties was simply a scheduling snafu and not an inauspicious start to the new power dynamic of Washington.

The White House announced Tuesday night that leaders would now meet Nov. 30. The change was requested by Republican leaders John Boehner, the soon-to-be speaker of the House, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, "due to scheduling conflicts in organizing their caucuses."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Wednesday batted away a slew of questions over the postponement at a morning briefing, including one asking if this was a failed test of whether the parties could ever work together.

It's "not when the meeting is held. The test is whether you have two sides working together to make progress," Gibbs said. "To judge the meeting a failure without having had the meeting is a weird bar to set."

In fact, Gibbs later argued, the agreement to reschedule the meeting is an encouraging sign of bipartisanship.

"We agreed that it was inconvenient to have the meeting when we originally set it. We moved it to a different date," he said as the questions persisted.

McConnell said in a Senate floor speech Wednesday that he looked forward to the meeting "and to the opportunity to share with the president, again, the areas where we agree."

"I believe that we can work together to increase opportunities for job growth here at home through increased trade opportunities abroad. I agree with the president that we should increase our exploration of clean coal technology and nuclear energy. And Republicans feel strongly that we need to reduce spending and our national debt," he said.

The meeting, which Obama called for in a postelection news conference, was dubbed the "Slurpee Summit," a reference to a line from the president during campaign speeches this year in which he criticized Republicans for standing idly by, sipping Slurpees, while Democrats did the hard work of putting the nation back on track.

And although the meeting itself has now been postponed, a promotion by 7-Eleven tied to it will go on. Their own Slurpee Summit includes a giveaway of the free frozen drinks — a mix of red and blue flavors — outside of Union Station near the Capitol on Thursday morning.

mmemoli@tribune.com

twitter.com/mikememoli

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