From NBC's Ken Strickland and Domenico Montanaro
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said he "resents" some of the things the administration and President Obama said and did during the August recess. In particular, Grassley took umbrage with President Obama attaching him to the death panel controversy. He said it was something he "took very personally."
"And [I] kind of resent, that when I've been very candid with the President of the United States face to face... I leveled with him, I leveled with him," Grassley said of his conversations with President Obama. "And then we're accused by [David] Axelrod of making political things and maybe not being serious in our negotiations."
For political observers, this Grassley divorce from the administration and the negotiating table is not surprising. It comes after, in particular, his admission -- in a question posed to him by NBC's Chuck Todd on MSNBC -- that he would not vote for legislation if it didn't have widespread Republican support, even if it had everything he wanted in it.
All along, no one expected more than three or four Republicans to support even the legislation that was being negotiated by the moderate, so-called Gang of Six in the Senate Finance Committee. So Grassley's statement was a marker for analysts that he had opened the door to backing away during a summer of angry town halls fueled by a fired up conservative base.
And on death panels last month, Grassley did lend credence to the idea that the government would "determine if you're going to pull the plug on grandma."
"There is some fear because in the House bill, there is counseling for end-of-life," Grassley said at an Iowa town hall after fielding a question about it from a town hall attendee. "And from that standpoint, you have every right to fear. You shouldn't have counseling at the end of life. You ought to have counseling 20 years before you're going to die. You ought to plan these things out. And I don't have any problem with things like living wills. But they ought to be done within the family. We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma."
In an impromptu news conference with reporters, Grassley said a major sticking point in negotiations was that Republicans were unable to get a commitment from Senate leaders that any bipartisan bill they passed would not be "obliterated" in the process in conference before final passage. When asked if he sought those assurances directly from the president, it seemed to hit a nerve.
"You know what," he said, "I have not had a face-to-face conversation or a telephone conversation with either the president or anybody on the White House staff since that meeting we had that Thursday" before the summer recess. And then he went on: "And I'll tell you, and there's some things that the president said since then that I took very personally."
Referring to the summer controversy about "death panels," Grassley said, "He gave some speeches during August in which he was associating me with efforts to make this a political document and efforts that other people in the country were making to give extremes, like on the end-of-life situation and associating me with things -- I [never] used the words he said.
He told reporters he had 31 meetings with the Gang of Six; nine day-long Finance Committee health-care "walk through" sessions; and 156 health-care meetings with constituents and senators in his office.
"And if that isn't evidence enough that we were serious enough... and then being accused of being political in the month of August, when I didn't say anything different in Iowa than I've been saying in Washington," Grassley insisted. "That's not a very good environment to carry on a conversation with the White House."