Republican Gov.-elect Paul LePage described his first meeting with President Obama and Cabinet secretaries Thursday as laying the groundwork for a “productive working relationship” with the administration.
“I was pleased to hear how pragmatic his approach is and to receive his assurances that he and his administration want to hear from governors and work toward solutions,” LePage said in a statement after a series of meetings in Washington.
LePage was in the nation’s capital as part of a luncheon for newly elected governors that was hosted by the president, Vice President Joe Biden and top administration officials. In addition, LePage met with Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer in Washington earlier Thursday.
LePage was unavailable for comment Thursday evening. But staff members in his transition office said the governor-elect spoke with the president briefly about the need to address low Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates in Maine.
During his address to the governors, Obama said governors see the effects of decisions made in Washington.
He also outlined a few of his top priorities, including extending unemployment insurance, holding the line on taxes for the middle class, and controlling spending by eliminating or reforming ineffective programs. For that, Obama asked for feedback from the states on which programs are working and which are not.
“We have just had a very vigorously contested election, but the election’s over, and now I think it’s time for all of us to make sure we are working together,” Obama said, according to White House press pool reports.
LePage’s staff said that in addition to meeting with the Canadian ambassador, LePage took part in briefings for the governors-elect with the Cabinet secretaries of health and human services, education, defense and transportation.
Back in September, LePage generated national headlines when he told a group of fishermen at a forum that, if elected, “You’re going to be seeing a lot of me on the front page saying, ‘Gov. LePage tells Obama to go to hell.’”
The candidate subsequently apologized for the coarse language, saying he needed to learn not to use “street words.” But while acknowledging poor word choice, LePage stood by his underlying message that Mainers are tired of seeing fishermen put out of work due to what he described as federal over-regulation of the fishing industry.
A LePage staffer said the “go to hell” comment did not come up Thursday.
Obama and Biden did, however, urge the governors-elect to keep the lines of communication open with the White House.
“One thing I would urge is don’t wait until you’re really mad at something to call us,” Obama said, according to the pool report. “We prefer not to read about it in the press.”
He said that if the administration disagrees with a governor, they will explain why, adding, “It’s not going to be based on ideology, it’s not going to be based on partisanship.”
Likewise, Biden told the governors-to-be that they can always reach out to him for help on issues, pledging to get back to them with an answer — or at least a timeline for an answer — within 24 hours.
“Any question you have, any difficulty you have in dealing with any aspect of the federal bureaucracy — and I’ve kept this commitment — pick up the phone and call me personally,” Biden said, according to a transcript supplied by the White House.
On Wednesday, LePage joined other Republican governors in a meeting with incoming House Speaker John Boehner. Topics on the agenda included the economy, government spending, job creation and the recent health care overhaul law.
The election of LePage — a conservative Republican — in normally Democratic Maine, combined with the GOP takeover of the Maine State House, has raised questions about the fate of the state’s two moderate Republican U.S. senators.
Members of Maine’s tea party movement have said they plan to find a candidate to challenge Sen. Olympia Snowe next year in her bid for a fourth term. And while polls show both Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins remain popular in the overall electorate in Maine, some conservatives hope they can unseat Snowe during the GOP primary.
Snowe campaigned for LePage leading up to the November election, and LePage credits the senior senator’s first husband, the late Peter Snowe, with helping him gain acceptance into Husson College.
So it was perhaps no surprise when LePage told a reporter from the National Review on Wednesday that he would support Snowe in 2012 regardless of who runs against her, adding that his loyalty to the senator would “never turn.”