Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., intensely questioned President Barack Obama during a Wednesday evening forum at the White House with congressional Democrats. But she says there were no hard feeling after the exchange, in which she demanded an explanation of why Obama is standing in the way of D.C. spending locally raised tax dollars during the partial government shutdown.
"I went up to the president after and he kissed me and said, 'Eleanor, I still love you,'" the longtime delegate told U.S. News. "The president, I must tell you, is a very grown-up president."
At hand was the president's promise to veto what he sees as piecemeal funding bills, preferring a "clean" continuing resolution that ends the current shutdown by continuing all existing budget spending levels. D.C. is caught up in the dispute, which centers on implementation of the 2010 health care reform law, because the city can't implement its own budget without congressional approval.
Norton is upset by the impasse and asked Obama to support a bill passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives that would allow D.C. to use funds it takes in from local taxes during the shutdown. Obama responded by making analogies between D.C. and other congressional districts, Norton said.
"He said every single district was going [through] what the district was going through, [so] I had to interrupt him and say these were local funds," she said. "He was just going on and on trying to find some way to analogize us to other federal appropriations and he fell into that notion. It clearly has to be responded to."
The back-and-forth was reportedly intense. One Democratic member of Congress anonymously told the Washington Post Norton was "strident," "self-absorbed" and "parochial" during the "heated exchange." She reportedly refused to yield the microphone to force a dialog with the president.
"Some in the room might have preferred that I take the position that almost everyone does when they ask questions of the president," she told U.S. News, "and he goes on sometimes for five minutes sometimes even for 10 minutes, the person usually stands there or may even sit down and listen. Well this wasn't that kind of situation. I wasn't trying to hear the president elaborate...I wanted him to understand what as the representative of the district I didn't think he clearly did."
Before Norton confronted Obama, she attended a press conference earlier in the day with D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray near the Capitol. After their conference ended, Gray crashed a nearby press briefing being held by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is holding up the House-passed D.C. funding bill.
"I'm on your side. Don't screw it up, okay? Don't screw it up," Reid told him.
It's unclear what Reid meant. Norton wasn't willing to guess and Reid's Senate office did not respond to a request for comment.
"Both Harry Reid and the president seem to believe that if the district budget gets out that will be some sign of weakness in their desire to make a federal point," she said. "That is my problem: they are using our local funds to make a federal point [and] they understand it's local funds."
During the last government shutdown in 1995, Gray told the press Wednesday, D.C. was able to spend its own funds after five days.
Ten days into the current shutdown, Norton isn't optimistic that D.C. will be spared.
"[Obama] seems to be dug in on the notion that this would somehow be a sign of weakness," she said. "I am not here crying wolf. The district cannot spend the $6 billion that it raised last year." The city's current emergency pool is expected to run out before the end of October.