Out of the three officials who met President Obama on an airport tarmac near Phoenix earlier this week, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) is now the only one who has characterized the president as anything other than cordial.In numerous TV and radio interviews since the meeting, Brewer has said the president was “tense to say the least” and took issue with a book she wrote last year. She said Obama walked away from her while she was in mid-sentence and even told one Phoenix television station she felt “a little bit threatened” by the encounter.
But Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, who was standing just feet away from the president and the governor on Wednesday during their now-infamous encounter, told TPM that Obama seemed calm the whole time.
“He wasn’t tense at all,” Stanton said on Friday. “The guy’s a pro.”
Though Stanton declined to discuss exactly what the governor and president said to each other, he said Obama’s classic coolness was evident.
“He doesn’t get animated, but he looks you in the eye and tells you what he thinks,” Stanton said. “And I think that’s honestly what he did is he looked the governor in the eye and spoke and told her what he was really feeling.”
Stanton, a Democrat, is now the second elected Arizona official whose account of the incident contradicts the way Brewer has described it.
The other politician on hand to greet the president, Republican Mayor Scott Smith of Mesa, Ariz., told TPM on Thursday that the discussion between the president and governor was an “awkward moment” but little more than that.
Obama himself dismissed the incident in an interview with ABC News, calling it “a classic example of things getting blown out of proportion.”
But in one interview after another, Brewer has said she was “taken aback” by the way the president spoke to her. She has repeatedly mocked him as “thin skinned” for taking issue with a passage of her 2011 book “Scorpions for Breakfast.”
The White House confirmed that Obama talked about her book, saying he was disappointed that she described her June 2010 visit to the Oval Office in a bad light. She previously had called the meeting “very cordial” in public. But in the book, she blasted the president as “patronizing” and “condescending.”
On Wednesday, reporters witnessed the governor pointing her finger at the president and she appeared flustered after the encounter.
The Phoenix mayor echoed the sentiment of his Mesa counterpart, telling TPM he wished the small encounter didn’t overshadow the real reason for Obama’s visit, which was designed to highlight jobs and innovation.
“It’s unfortunate that that very positive, good message has been sort of lost in the way the media’s covered this personal interchange between the two,” Stanton said. “At the end of the day, it’s not that big of a deal. The president said it was overblown. I agree.”
Stanton said that kind of visit should be an honor for Arizona, not a partisan exercise.
“I’m mayor of every person in my city, Democrat, Republican, independent, whatever,” Stanton said. “You’re in your official capacity at that point. I’m an ambassador for the state at that moment.”
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org