WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sen. Dean Barkley is getting the most of his 15 minutes of fame. On Tuesday, he got 25 minutes alone with President Bush and senior aides.
Barkley, an independent serving the remaining weeks of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone's term, later attended a White House reception for new lawmakers, including Sen.-elect Norm Coleman, who will succeed Barkley in January.
Both men, speaking at different press conferences, used the identical word to describe Tuesday's experience: surreal.
"My first visit to the White House is at the Oval Office to meet the president -- how cool can that be?" Barkley said.
"He's a very, very, very, very charming man," Barkley said. "He dazzled me. He's a homespun, real normal guy who happens to be president."
Barkley, speaking before word that the White House and congressional leaders had agreed on legislation to create a Homeland Security Department, said he didn't want to be a swing vote on the issue.
"I would like to see a bill come to the floor that you have an 80-20, 90-10 vote," said Barkley, who on Monday announced he would not caucus with either party. "I'm not looking forward to a 51-49 vote. Smart men are here. Smart men can compromise."
Barkley said he brought up two issues with Bush specific to Minnesota. One was establishing a living memorial to Wellstone. The other was a continuation of a waiver that lets Minnesota offer welfare recipients options such as extra schooling and mental-health counseling as they transition to work.
Coleman, speaking to reporters in a light rain on the White House driveway, looked up playfully and asked, "Where's the snow?"
"I have to pinch myself and say, 'How did I get invited to this party,' " he added.
Coleman, a Republican, said he got a hug and a smile from Bush.
"He was pretty glad that I was here, and I'm pretty glad too," he said. Coleman said he didn't bring up any policy issues with the president because it was a social occasion.
Coleman said that the eulogies delivered on the Senate floor that same day for Wellstone, who was killed in a plane crash last month, demonstrated the Senate's respect for Wellstone's passion.
"I will carry on some of that passion," Coleman said.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.