The nation’s governor’s emerged from a meeting with President Barack Obama Monday claiming harmony, only to immediately break into an on-camera partisan feud in front of the West Wing.
Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal lashed out first, saying if Obama were serious about growing the economy he would approve the Keystone XL pipeline project and take other executive actions.
Instead, Jindal said, Obama “seems to be waving the white flag of surrender” on the economy by focusing on raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10, up from $7.25. “The Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy. I think we can do better than that,” Jindal said.
Jindal’s statements were the kind that Republicans often make on television appearances or at partisan events. But his colleagues had been instead expressing wide agreement and appreciation for the president’s time. Some of the governors began shaking their heads, and Hawaii Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie began audibly mumbling to others around him even as Jindal was speaking.
Connecticut Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy took over the microphone from Jindal and responded sharply, “Wait a second, until a few moments ago we were going down a pretty cooperative road. So let me just say that we don’t all agree that moving Canadian oil through the United States is necessarily the best thing for the United States economy.”
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican who chairs the National Governors Association and supports Keystone, earlier said she asked Obama when the administration would decide whether to allow it and he told her there would be an answer in the next couple months.
Malloy said the white flag statement was the most partisan of their weekend conference and that many governors support a minimum wage increase.
“I don’t know what the heck was a reference to white flag when it comes to people making $404 a week,” Malloy snapped. “I mean that’s the most insane statement I’ve ever heard.”
Jindal did not the back down. “If that’s the most partisan thing he’s heard all weekend, I want to make sure he hears a more partisan statement,” Jindal responded. “I think we can grow the economy more if we would delay more of these Obamacare mandates.”
As the news conference broke up, Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, vice chair of the governors association, called Jindal a “cheap shot artist.”
The public dispute came after Obama addressed the group in the State Dining Room and appealed for their help to advance his economic policies that stand little chance of winning passage on Capitol Hill.
“Even when there’s little appetite in Congress to move on some of these priories, on the state level you guys are governed by practical considerations,” Obama told the governors during a meeting at the White House. “You want to do right by your people.”
The president pressed in particular for states to act on their own to raise the minimum wage and expand access to early childhood education, two initiatives that have gained little traction in Congress since Obama first introduced them last year.
Several governors are seen as potential presidential candidates in 2016. Obama made light of the speculation about the race to replace him, saying he “enjoyed watching some of you with your eyes on higher office size up the drapes, and each other.”
Not every governor met Monday with the president.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie left the NGA meeting early to attend his daughter’s birthday and prepare for a budget address.
Facing multiple investigations in a political-retribution probe in New Jersey, the Republican leader also skipped a Monday news conference by the Republican Governors Association, which he leads.