When Congressman Eliot Engel ran into Secretary Hillary Clinton at the State Department today, he said the secretary of state was eager to hear the congressman’s report on yesterday’s meeting between President Obama and Jewish Democrats.
“She asked me how the meeting went and she told me she encouraged the president to do such a meeting,” Mr. Engel told me this afternoon. “And I said, ‘Well, I’m glad. It was a good idea. It was a good meeting, and I think there wil be follow-up in the future.'”
Mr. Engel said President Obama–who was joined by Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Senior Advisor David Axelrod, among other top aides–began by referencing Jews’ important place in the early days of the civil rights movement.
“He opened the meeting by basically saying how much Israel meant to him, and how much there was a shared bond between the African American and Jewish community,” Congressman Eliot Engel told me this afternoon. “And that he has a good place in his heart for Israel, and he knows that the messaging may have gotten out of hand, and that he wanted to hear from us.”
The meeting alternated between senators and members of the House–each of whom took four or five minutes to share their concerns with the president.
Mr. Engel said he questioned why the administration had been so public with its displeasure recently. “[The President] said sometimes you need to go public in order to move things, that if it’s private, nothing gets moved and changes,” the congressman recounted. “But I told him I thought the administration’s tone back then was harsh, too harsh, and gave many the impression that he was only pressuring Israel.”
In an email, Congressman Jerrold Nadler said it was a “fruitful” meeting, and said the president “reiterated his absolute determination that Iran would not achieve a nuclear bomb.” (Mr. Engel said he thought it was a coincidence that the meeting was held the same day the administration announced new sanctions against Iran.)
“I thought the president handled it well,” Mr. Engel said. “I don’t agree with everything he’s done and everything he said, but I think it was respectful and what was really good about it was that everyone spoke from the heart. No one was afraid to say something to the President of the United States.”