Gov. Jim Douglas reported Monday evening he spent about 30 minutes with President Barack Obama earlier in the day -- although he admitted he really hadn't kept track of the time.
They talked about the economic recovery legislation pending in Congress. Douglas said he stressed he didn't have a favorite -- there is a House and Senate version and will likely be a third version in the end. His message was simply that states need help so please do something fast.
Obama told Douglas, according to the governor, that he's trying hard to find a package that wins at least some bipartisan support.
The invitation to meet the president came over the weekend and out of the blue (kind of an apt term when talking about a Democrat, don't you think?) Douglas had a speaking engagement and decided to piggyback onto his trip to DC some meetings about the stimulus package. He had contact the White House office of intergovernmental affairs to provide some ideas about what states need/want in the package -- flexibility and more money for infrastructure.
My take is the Obama staff saw an opportunity to showcase an ally who happens to be Republican but wants the federal government to give the states some spending money. Voila, a half-hour audience complete with an opportunity for the press to see the pair seated in front of the fireplace amiably chatting.
Douglas said he didn't feel used -- he got a chance to say some things directly to the guy in charge.
They had a comfortable conversation. "He's a very genial guy," Douglas said. Did Obama offer refreshments? Water, "but I declined." Douglas had gotten just outside before the "audience."
Douglas twice visited the Oval Office when Bush was president -- but always with a group and never when cameras recorded the visit.
Did he say anything interesting, unexpected? Did you? Douglas answered that before leaving he brought up another topic. I waiting anxiously wondering what topic he might have raised with the president.
Douglas explained. "I said I wanted to thank him" for the directive to the Environmental Protection Agency about reconsidering states' requests for waivers allowing stricter tailpipe emissions standards.
Well, did you invite him to Vermont? Remember Bush never came during his eight years as president. Douglas said they talked about whether Obama had been to Vermont -- he said he had while campaigning. Douglas told Obama he hoped he would come again -- soon. In fact, Douglas shared later, the president may not know it, but an invitation has been issued for him to come to the big Lake Champlain celebration in the summer.
So who gained the most out of this session and did anyone lose?
-- Nancy Remsen