07.15.10

Bankers: Is Obama of This Earth?

The White House business meetings left some participants feeling the Obama administration lives in an alternate reality. Lloyd Grove reports on the fallout.

Presiding over a chronically flagging economy, President Obama is hoping for a break from the business community (which has been short on love lately) and the mainstream media (which has been highlighting conflict between the White House and the capitalists).

Obama's meetings this week with Warren Buffett on Wednesday morning, and a group of bankers, green energy CEOs and Bill Clinton in the afternoon were designed to show that the president actually does enjoy a constructive give-and-take with business types.

Did it work?

“The feeling in that room was that there is nobody…in the West Wing of the White House, who ever so much as sold a pair of shoes,” said a source familiar with the meeting.

Not necessarily, according to a person familiar with the afternoon meeting.

"I think the people there are continually and constantly amazed at the sense of removal from reality in the administration when it comes to the economy," this person said. "It was a meeting about greening and rehabbing buildings, and they seemed to think the banks will foot the bill for the effort. The feeling in that room was that there is nobody at the top of this administration, in the West Wing of the White House, who ever so much as sold a pair of shoes. That's a real problem."

Nobody apparently challenged Obama's policies in the hour-long meeting; attendees just bit their tongues as Clinton gave a lengthy presentation on deploying greening technology used to rehab houses to make large office buildings environmentally efficient and create green jobs.

"There was a sense in the room that they would have loved to have gotten Bill Clinton alone to talk to him about the economy," said the source. "He gets it."

The group’s sentiments spilled out on Capitol Hill on Thursday, as a cluster of Republican senators held a press conference highlighting the business community’s unhappiness with the administration.

"Too many of our nation's job creators...are sitting on the sidelines waiting to see how badly they're going to take it on the chin," said Utah’s Orrin Hatch, who bashed Obama’s “job-killing agenda.”

Lloyd Grove is editor at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.

Benjamin Sarlin contributed to this report.