Sam Stein contributed reporting.
WASHINGTON -- On the day that Republican leaders were supposed to have a bipartisan meeting and an intimate dinner with President Obama, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spent several hours schmoozing with the conservative Federalist Society -- including attending their annual dinner.
Republicans collectively backed out of the dinner with Obama, saying they were too busy, but McConnell said during a 15-minute morning speech to the conservative group that he planned to attend their annual dinner Thursday night, featuring a keynote address by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
McConnell's morning speech focused on Republican efforts to declare March's health care reform unconstitutional, and he sought to enlist the powerful Federalist network in that aim.
"I really admire this [group's] mission," he said. "I think it is so important, and will be joining you -- along with my wife, Bush [Labor Secretary] Elaine Chao, at dinner tonight, so you'll be seeing more of us."
The White House's original invitation was for a bipartisan meeting and then an intimate dinner in the president's private residence.
Obama spokesmen have generally avoided portraying the move as a deliberate brush-off by Republicans.An official statement from the White House ascribed the dinner's move to Nov. 30 to "scheduling conflicts," and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters in an off-camera briefing on Thursday, "Sen. McConnell does not make it a regular practice of showing us his daily schedule. ... Again, we are looking forward to sitting down with leaders on both sides on November 30."
In an interview with CNN, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he believed McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner were deliberately snubbing the President.
"I certainly think that is the way it looks and I think that is unfortunate. President Bush invited Speaker Pelosi and I down -- she was not the Speaker nor was I the Leader -- two days after the election he invited us down to lunch in November of '06, and we went down and had a very cordial lunch."
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), wrote on Twitter, "mcconell has time 4 political speech @ federalist society but no time to meet w/obama on jobs? mtg was productive would've been more so w rs [Republicans]."
UPDATE, 7:33 p.m.: At Thursday's Federalist Society dinner, McConnell was acknowledged as one of the attendees, along with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Sen.-elect Mike Lee (R-Utah), and incoming Reps. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and Steve Pearce (R-N.M.).