GLENDALE, Ariz. – Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer says she meant no disrespect when she pointed a finger at President Barack Obama during an intense discussion on an airport tarmac. But the Republican governor says the Democratic president showed disrespect by abruptly ending their conversation.
The brief encounter – out of earshot of observers but captured on camera – was a highly visible demonstration of the verbal and legal skirmishing between Brewer and Obama’s administration over illegal immigration and other issues.
Airport arrivals for presidents normally involve mere pleasantries between those involved, but Brewer and Obama have a history. And part of that history is what apparently got things going, according to accounts provided by Brewer and the White House.
Brewer said that during their talk, she invited Obama to visit Arizona to hear about her achievements and to visit the U.S.-Mexico border, which has been a point of friction between the two because of the illegal immigration issue.
Obama then said Brewer’s recently published book mischaracterized a 2011 White House meeting between them.
Brewer said in an interview Thursday that she talks with her hands a lot and that her pointing a finger at Obama during their conversation wasn’t disrespectful. “I respect the office of the president,” she said. “I was there to welcome him.”
She said she was grateful for the visit and intended to talk to him about the state’s accomplishments. But she said she was “taken aback by his comments” when he said he wasn’t happy with how her book described their White House meeting.
Immediately after the meeting Brewer had said it was cordial, but her book said Obama lectured Brewer in the Oval Office and that she felt he was condescending toward her.
“It is what it is. I proceeded to say that to him, and he chose to walk away from me,” she said Thursday.
Asked whether she regarded that as disrespectful, she replied: “Well, I would never have walked away from anybody having a conversation. And, of course, that is what it is. It is disrespectful for me.”
Arizona Sen. John McCain – Obama’s opponent in the 2008 presidential election – backed up Brewer in an interview Thursday.
McCain said: “Apparently Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, had a similar exchange with the president. It is very well-known he has a prickly personality and I think it has been displayed in both of those cases.”
Obama, in an interview with ABC News, said the encounter with Brewer “is a classic example of things getting blown out of proportion.”
“I think it’s always good publicity for a Republican if they’re in an argument with me,” Obama said in the interview. “But this was really not a big deal. She wanted to give me a letter, asking for a meeting. And I said, ‘We’d be happy to meet.’”