The White House didn't try to hide its irritation with reports in the morning papers that President Bush tried to wrangle a legislative deal with President-elect Obama.
News accounts in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Associated Press among others, said that Mr. Bush would support another economic stimulus package or massive loans to troubled automakers, if Mr. Obama gets the Democratic Congress to approve the pending Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
Both the Times and the Post attributed their accounts to "people familiar with the discussion." The A.P. quoted "aides to the Democrat" - meaning Mr. Obama.
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino denied the reports and denounced those peddling it.
"In no way did President Bush suggest that there was a quid pro quo when it came to (the) Colombia Free Trade Agreement," Perino told reporters.
Later in the day, Obama Transition Chief John Podesta also called the reports "inaccurate" declaring "there was no quid pro quo in the conversation" between the president and the president-elect.
Perino was adamant that Mr. Bush did not try to create any linkage between getting the trade deals passed by a lame duck session of Congress this month, in exchange for supporting the stimulus plan and/or automaker loans called for by top Democrats.
"I've also gotten several requests wanting to know if there is irritation at the White House towards the Obama team," said Perino, "and you're not going to hear that from me."
But moments later, she took aim at the "two anonymous aides - or one anonymous aide who is apparently telling this story."
She said some reporters told her that others "on the Obama team" urged them not to write this story "because it was inaccurate."
"So look, I'll let unidentified aides defend themselves, if you guys can find them," she said to reporters covering the President's Veterans Day visit to New York.
"But I can tell you here, on the record, not afraid to say it: the President does support free trade - that's no secret." But Perino again denied any "quid pro quo" between the trade deals and the economic plans.
She said the president and the president-elect "have policy differences - but that doesn't mean they're not both interested in helping improve the economy for the benefit of American citizens."
For weeks now, the White House has resisted Democratic calls for another economic stimulus package this year. The administration is not persuaded it would have the desired effect of truly providing a boost to the troubled economy.
As for massive government loans to the nation's automakers, she said the administration doesn't see anything in the $700-billion bailout package "that would give us the authority to help individual industries."
But she left the door open to future congressional action.
It sets the stage for some acrimonious dealings between the White House and the lame duck Congress in the coming weeks.
Mr. Bush acknowledged as much at the start of his speech Tuesday aboard the decommissioned aircraft carrier Intrepid - which he re-dedicated as an Sea, Air and Space Museum.
Recognizing some members of Congress in the audience, including House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, Mr. Bush said "looking forward to that lame duck session, aren't we?"
But the laughter the crack elicited may be short-lived.
By Mark Knoller