Politics & Government

Inside the Obama-Clinton meeting: water and laughter

WASHINGTON — California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is once more playing peacemaker, this time helping ease tensions between Democratic rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Repeating the kind of mediating role she has adopted before, Feinstein this week did her part to help Clinton and Obama reconcile following their bitter presidential primary campaign. On Thursday night, at the senator's invitation, Clinton and Obama met privately for about an hour in Feinstein's Washington home.

"There's a period of decompression that has to take place," Feinstein told reporters Friday. "And it has to take place in interpersonal relationships, as well."

Arriving and leaving in separate cars, Obama and Clinton convened about 9 p.m. Thursday in a downstairs room while Feinstein worked upstairs. Accompanied only by security guards and by one campaign aide each when they arrived, Obama and Clinton talked without having to face a horde of reporters once they finished.

Not too far away, camera crews were futilely staking out Clinton's own home.

The meeting came two days after Obama clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, and before Clinton's formal endorsement of her one-time opponent. Clinton now plans to announce her support for Obama at noon on Saturday at Washington's National Building Museum.

Operatives from both campaigns successfully kept the meeting under wraps and did not inform reporters it would take place.

"They just wanted an opportunity to meet together, alone," Feinstein said. "I think the opportunity to sit down, just the two of them, to have an hour together, was a positive."

Feinstein was an early supporter of Clinton during the presidential primaries. She said she had offered use of her D.C. house, located in a leafy neighborhood near the campus of American University, and that Clinton called her Thursday afternoon to take advantage of the offer.

It was an unadorned affair, with Feinstein serving her guests only water before retiring upstairs. She was called once the meeting was over, and said she found Obama and Clinton laughing together -- the very picture of reconciliation.

"I said, 'Good night, everybody, I hope you had a good meeting,'" Feinstein said.

Clinton's New York colleague, Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, said Friday on ABC's "Good Morning America" that the meeting was not about the vice presidential decision that Obama must now face. He further stressed that Clinton will vigorously campaign for Obama whether or not she is on the ticket.

For Feinstein, the Thursday night meeting exemplified her appreciation for the power of the political center. On Capitol Hill, it can be advantageous to be seen as an even-handed arbiter.

For instance, she pushed environmentalists and San Joaquin Valley farmers to negotiate through their differences over how to restore water flows and the salmon population to the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam. The protracted negotiations resulted in legislation that Feinstein and her House counterparts now hope to move through Congress.

In a similar vein, Feinstein is currently convening state and local water officials from throughout California in hopes of hammering out plans for cleaning up tainted irrigation drainage on the San Joaquin Valley's west side.

"It's certainly not out of character," Andrew House, spokesman for Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, said of Feinstein's latest conciliatory efforts. "She tends to get very personally involved; she tries to be a dealmaker."

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