A few words — and whether they actually were said — suddenly have come between President Obama and his longtime friend, political ally and fellow lawmaker from Illinois, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin.
Mr. Durbin, a Democrat with a history of incendiary statements including a comparison of Guantanamo Bay to a Nazi concentration camp, was hung out to dry Wednesday when the White House flatly dismissed the senator’s claim that a top Republican made contemptuous comments toward the commander in chief during a recent closed-door meeting.
The accusation immediately made waves and headlines, as it offered Democrats and liberal pundits quality ammunition to paint Republicans as unreasonable and, in some cases, filled with hatred toward the president.
But after the controversy brewed for several days, the administration stepped in and denied that such words were uttered.
“It did not happen. My understanding is, from a participant in the meeting, that did not happen,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.
Mr. Carney’s denial could drive a wedge between Mr. Obama and Mr. Durbin, as it appears one of the two camps simply isn’t telling the truth.
So far, no one has come forward to corroborate Mr. Durbin’s version of events.
Calls and emails to Mr. Durbin’s office were not returned to The Washington Times on Wednesday, but the senator told Fox News and other outlets that he is standing by his comments despite the firestorm they have created.
The White House made the statement about the same time top Republicans began to pressure Mr. Durbin, his party’s No. 2 man in the Senate, to retract his Facebook post and, perhaps more importantly, reveal publicly where he got his information.
“Senator Durbin’s accusation is a serious one, and it appears to have been invented out of thin air,” said Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “The senator should disclose who told him this account of events, retract his reckless allegation immediately and apologize.”
In his lengthy Facebook post — which has attracted more than 2,000 “likes” and nearly 1,600 comments — Mr. Durbin said the remark was made during one of the president’s recent meetings with congressional Republicans over the government shutdown and debt ceiling.
“Many Republicans searching for something to say in defense of the disastrous shutdown strategy will say President Obama just doesn’t try hard enough to communicate with Republicans,” Mr. Durbin wrote. “But in a ‘negotiation’ meeting with the president, one GOP House Leader told the president: ‘I cannot even stand to look at you.’ What are the chances of an honest conversation with someone who has just said something so disrespectful?”
He did not identify the Republican who would have made the purported statement.
This isn’t the first time Mr. Durbin’s comments have gotten him into hot water.