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“Look, let me just make this point, John, because we are not campaigning anymore. The election’s over,” he said, staring at the Arizona Republican.

“I’m reminded of that every day,” Mr. McCain shot back with a tight smile, adding that despite that fact, “the American people care about what we did and how we did it.”

Mr. Obama didn’t smile as he continued to scold the senator. “We can have a debate about process or we can have a debate about how we’re actually going to help the American people at this point. And I think that the latter debate is the one that they care about a little bit more.”

The president also took a swipe at Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, who sat behind a 3-foot stack of papers - a copy of the legislation produced by the Senate.

“Lemme just guess: That’s the 2,400-page health bill,” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “When we do props like this, you know, stack it up, and you repeat 2,400 pages, et cetera, you know, the truth of the matter is that health care is very complicated. And we can try to pretend that it’s not, but it is.”

The daylong session often fell into mind-numbing recitations of minutia as the attendees argued about the smallest nuts and bolts of the Senate bill. But each side appeared locked into their opposing positions, and Republicans knew full well that after the supposedly bipartisan chat, Senate Democrats hope to move ahead with passing the bill with a simple majority, bypassing a long-standing rule that 60 members approve a floor vote.

Even before the summit began, as Mr. Obama walked over to the diplomatic guest house, he made clear that he has no problem going with a Democrats-only strategy.

When asked by reporters whether he had a Plan B, he said with a smile: “I’ve always got plans.”

From the outset, Mr. Obama acknowledged that compromise would be difficult, even as he called for an actual “discussion, and not just us trading talking points” about the chasm that separates the two sides.

“I don’t know that those gaps can be bridged,” he said with candor.

In hour six, a moment occurred that summed up the bipartisan spirit that existed in the room. Listing the problems with the Senate bill, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner concluded: “I could go on and on and on.”

“You have,” Mrs. Pelosi said with a tight smile.

Joseph Curl can be reached at