Fly On The Wall: Details Emerge On Obama’s Exchanges In WH Afghanistan Meeting

October 6, 2009 6:35 p.m.

Details are still emerging about President Obama’s 90-minute closed-door session with 31 members of Congress today about his plan for Afghanistan, but mentioned in some stories is that Sen. John McCain had a terse exchange with his onetime rival.

Both the New York Times and Politico are reporting tonight that McCain (R-AZ) suggested Obama was making the decision about whether to send a surge of troops at a “leisurely” pace and was rebuffed.

While disputing the suggestion of a tense moment, sources confirmed the general sense of the exchange — and that Obama assured everyone that he was moving as quickly as he believes prudence allows.

TPMDC checked in with McCain spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan, who said the senator was “astonished” by early reports characterizing the exchange as an argument because they aren’t accurate. The White House also suggested there weren’t any fireworks.Buchanan said her boss told the president he didn’t think the U.S. could afford to “take a leisurely pace in deciding” given the recent casualties in Afghanistan.

She characterized the meeting as both somber and serious, but said it was constructive and no one interrupted anyone.

“Senator McCain does not recall the situation being that way,” Buchanan said, responding to the reports.

Buchanan said McCain offered the same assessment he’s been saying publicly, quoting Adm. Mullen’s recent testimony that “Time is not on our side.”

A White House aide agreed with that readout, telling TPMDC that Obama told the group there would be nothing leisurely about his choice since, “No one feels more urgency to get this right.”

In another exchange, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) reminded the group that former President George W. Bush took three months to decide if he was going to send a surge of troops to Iraq.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) said everyone at the table in the State Dining Room shouldered part of the responsibility for the decision.

A Senate aide told TPMDC that Kerry said, “Mr. President, this is your ultimate decision, but it’s shared by the Congress because together we have to hold together the consent of the American people for this policy, that’s one of the lessons of Vietnam.”

McCain later said he disagreed with his colleague. “This is your decision – your sole decision,” he told Obama.

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