White House Explains Durbin Showdown, Says GOP Leader Never Insulted President

Obama spokesperson chalks up disagreement to “miscommunication”

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U.S. Senate Majority Whip Sen. Richard Durbin answers questions from members of the media after a caucus with Senate Democrats July 25, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Obama spokesperson Jay Carney blamed “miscommunication” for a misunderstanding between a White House official and Senate’s number two Democrat, Majority Whip Dick Durbin, about an alleged insult hurled at President Obama by a senior House Republican.

In a Facebook post over the weekend, Durbin wrote that during shutdown negotiations “one GOP House Leader told the president: “I cannot even stand to look at you.” Durbin never claimed to witness the exchange, and did not give his source.

On Thursday, Carney said that a White House official told Senate Democratic leaders about the meetings between the President and GOP leaders. Carney would not say what the White House official said, but he said that no GOP official ever said “I cannot even stand to look at you.”

In a statement Wednesday, Carney disputed Durbin’s version of events, saying simply, “It did not happen,” leaving the impression that the White House was accusing Durbin of lying about the episode. By Wednesday afternoon, Durbin stood by his comments in a statement to TIME.

When questioned by reporters Thursday, Carney clarified his initial statement, backing away from appearing to accuse Durbin of dishonesty. “I was simply saying that the quote attributed to a Republican lawmaker in the House GOP meeting with the president was not accurate—I wasn’t accusing anybody of anything,” Carney said. “And that what I can tell you is that there was a miscommunication when the White House read out that meeting to Senate Democrats, and we regret the misunderstanding.”

Asked for more information on that meeting, Carney said, “I’m not going to get into either private meetings between congressional leaders and the president or private meetings between White House officials and members and leaders of Congress.”