President Obama postponed a planned trip to Asia today in order to stay in Washington during what looks to be the final showdown on the passage of a health care reform bill. But some analysts said that by postponing his international trip so that he can personally try to carry his signature legislation across the finish line, the president is putting even more of his political capital on the line.
The White House acknowledged today the reason the president is staying in this country is because the health care legislation in the House is so touch-and-go that he is needed to personally lobby wavering Democrats.
"I think everybody believed that him being here was more important," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said today.
In the last two weeks, Obama has made about 10 phone calls and had five meetings with House Democrats to lobby for the passage of the bill by March 18, the original departure date for his trip to Indonesia, Guam and Australia.
For the past week, Democratic congressional leaders have been telling Obama that it would be a bad idea for him to be out of the country during this time. They say he is needed in the trenches to help personally persuade wavering House Democrats as they try to pass the Senate bill.
The White House said today the president would leave for his trip on March 21, whether the bill has passed by then or not.
Although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., today said, "we'll take whatever time is required for us to pass the legislation," behind closed doors those leaders are telling Democrats to get ready for a vote by next weekend, sources tell ABC News.
Ohio freshman Rep. John Boccieri, one of the fiscally conservative Democrats whom the president needs to flip, voted against the House legislation last November, but has an open mind about his next vote. A major in the Air Force reserves who served two tours in Iraq, Boccieri had a ready metaphor when asked how intense the pressure is that he has started to feel from top Democrats.
"It's no different from flying missions out of Baghdad," he said.
Other members of the House are not as accommodating. Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan says his opposition to abortion will mean he votes "no." As he told a Marquette, Mich., radio station today, "You know, in this town, some people roll over every five minutes on their principles and beliefs -- I don't."
Obama heads to Ohio Monday for one last public health care rally. Then he will head back to the White House to furiously lobby members of Congress, where House Democratic sources say they still do not have all the needed votes.