U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin is standing by his allegation that a top Republican told President Barack Obama, “I cannot even stand to look at you" — even though Obama's top spokesman says flatly that it didn't happen.
"Senator Durbin stands by his comments," Durbin communications director Max Gleischman said in a statement a short time ago.
It's the latest surprise twist in a he-said/he-said spat that's been going on all day.
The Internet was abuzz this morning with a startling report from Durbin, the Illinois Democrat and second-ranking member of the Senate, who made the allegation on his Facebook page.
“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,” 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?”
It was a devastating tidbit, one that seemed to confirm a core Democratic narrative about Republican lack of civility toward Obama. Major online media sites and Twitter spread it far and wide. Progressive bloggers pounced.
But then, in just about the only twist that could be more startling than the original allegation, White House spokesman Jay Carney, when questioned about the alleged comment later in the day, said flatly that it never happened.
From a RealClearPolitics post:
JACKIE CALMES, NEW YORK TIMES: Just to follow up on that. In terms of the president talking to Republicans, can you rule out -- there was the number two Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin, said on his Facebook page that someone in recent exchange with the president said he can't even stand, this member of Congress, that he can't even stand to look at the president. Can you say whether that happened?
JAY CARNEY: I will say this, I spoke with somebody who was in that meeting and it did not happen.
QUESTION: Did the White House speak to Senator Durbin about this?
CARNEY: I don't know. My understanding is that, again, from participants in the meeting that that didn't happen.
QUESTION: Did anything like it happen that would --
CARNEY: Not that I'm aware of, Jackie.
Republicans rallied. House Speaker John Boehner's office put out a statement accusing Durbin of inventing the allegation “out of thin air,” and demanded either proof or an apology. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., issued a statement calling Durbin's allegation “outrageous” and “a blatant falsehood.” The conservative Blogsphere went bonkers.
Durbin's office initially didn't respond to numerous news outlets seeking an explanation. They finally offered one this afternoon — not walking it back, as some expected, but standing by the statement.
His office has offered no further details.