The White House is expecting an apology from Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat who said Tuesday he spied a hint of sexism in President Obama's criticism of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the subject of trade.
"Senator Brown is a stand-up guy, and I'm confident after he's had a chance to look at the comments he made yesterday that he'll find a way to apologize," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
The drama concerns a debate in Congress about a bill that would give the president fast-track authority to enact the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive new trade agreement that's pitted Mr. Obama against much of his party's congressional rank-and-file.
Progressives like Brown and Warren oppose TPP, warning that it would push companies to ship American jobs overseas while undermining labor and environmental regulations in the U.S. and around the world. They're also opposed to granting the president fast-track authority to push TPP through Congress on an up-or-down vote, no amendments or filibusters permitted. They fear that authority, which would be in place for six years, could be used by a future Republican to undermine environmental regulations or the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms Mr. Obama signed into law in 2010.
In an interview last week with Yahoo News' Matt Bai, the president brushed aside those criticisms as purely "speculative."
"The truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else," Mr. Obama said. "And you know, she's got a voice that she wants to get out there. And I understand that. And on most issues, she and I deeply agree. On this one, though, her arguments don't stand the test of fact and scrutiny."
That dismissive tone didn't sit well with Brown, a fiery populist who's played a leading role alongside Warren in stirring up Democratic opposition to the fast-track bill and TPP itself.
"I think the president was disrespectful to her, the way he did that. I think the president has made this more personal than he needed to," Brown told reporters on Tuesday.
Pressed on which particular comments by the president he found disrespectful, Brown later added, "I think by just calling her 'another politician'...I think referring to her as her first name when he might not have done that for a male senator, perhaps. I've said enough."
Earnest said Wednesday that the president's use of Warren's first name was a mark of familiarity, not condescension. "It's not surprising that he would call her by her first name, the same way that he calls other senators by their first name," he said.
And at least one fellow Democrat seemed prepared to give the president the benefit of the doubt. "It's silliness, the president and Elizabeth Warren are friends...He just thinks she is wrong on this, and he has the right to say that," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, told MSNBC. "I think if he would have called her Sen. Warren, someone would have said, 'Oh, he's giving her the cold shoulder'...I would be freaked out if he didn't call me by my first name. We've known each other for a while."
Every Democrat in the Senate, with the exception of Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, united Tuesday to block a bill that would have fast-tracked TPP. But after the bill failed, Democratic senators met with the president at the White House, and further discussions Wednesday resulted in an agreement. In exchange for moving forward with the bill, Democrats will also get votes on several other trade proposals, including a customs enforcement bill targeting Chinese currency manipulation, a bill to ease the import of African-made goods into the U.S., and a bill to protect U.S. workers whose jobs might be affected by TPP.