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Republicans fight Obama over optics of healthcare summit: Should the table be round or square?

February 24, 2010 |  8:49 am

Protestor at South Florida Tea Party
Forget substance. As former Virginia Republican Tom Davis told Ticket a few weeks ago, you could tell the upcoming healthcare summit was for show when the players announced that C-SPAN's cameras would be in the room. "It will be great political theater," said Davis, who now heads the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership. "I"m going to have my popcorn and soda and sit down and watch it like the Superbowl."

As if to confirm his prediction, Republicans are now demanding all kinds of atmospherics for Thursday's healthcare summit.

The biggest demand so far: Republicans insisted on no podium at the summit, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern at Blair House across from the White House. “We don’t want any more of that Professor Obama lecturing to us stuff,” one staffer told Politico.

The White House conceded. Now everyone will sit at a table in a hollow square setup, identified with name cards.

Maybe this is all a reaction by House Republicans to President Obama's compelling appearance at their retreat in Baltimore a few weeks ago. He won plaudits for reaching a hand out for bipartisanship. Oh, and the show was televised. Or maybe they're trying to regain the momentum they won last summer when those angry 'tea party' advocates came out to protest Obama's healthcare plan at town halls all over the country, like the one pictured above in South Florida.

Either way, the battle over appearances puts into stark relief the problem for the White House in engineering a bipartisan bill -- or bypassing Republicans altogether. The other day, the White House put its cards on the table with a compromise plan. Republican Minority Whip Eric Cantor immediately dismissed it as a non-starter, saying "The president insists on bringing back a bill that the American people have resoundingly rejected.” Now Democrats are warming to the idea of passing a bill without Republican votes by using a parliamentary tactic known as reconciliation.

Anyway, the politics over looking good left White House press secretary Robert Gibbs rolling his eyes. “Maybe we’ll just — you know, maybe those little desks they give you in like elementary school that would otherwise be uncomfortable and hard to fit into,” he  said Tuesday during his daily press briefing. Maybe, he added, that "might be the best way forward."

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo credit: South Florida Tea Party

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