The Note: All In — Will Obama Get Pushy in Health Care Push?

By Caitlin Taylor

Jul 22, 2009 8:14am

By RICK KLEIN Here, among the impatient press corps, infighting Democrats, excited Republicans (including those who are giving heartbeats to straw men), and an increasingly skeptical public, President Obama has a chance to stand alone. He can call a press conference whenever he wants — and Washington, plus the public, will listen. (Though it helps if he has something new to say.) From the start, Team Obama has been better about signaling a new strategy than at actually carrying it out. (How many times did a top campaign aide say something about the gloves coming off, only to find them still firmly affixed the next time a street fight broke out?) The strategy can be the message. But when it’s all riding on one legislative push — when do we see some real pushing for the legislation? The next chance comes Wednesday night, with an 8 pm ET news conference in the White House East Room that aims to reestablish the health care conversation outside the media filter — and win back some of the public urgency the president talks so much about. The president’s opening remarks will again place health care reform in the broader context of the economy, per ABC’s Jake Tapper. The New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg calls it a “pivotal moment” for Obama: “How he handles the issue over the next several weeks could shape the rest of his presidency, shedding light on his political strength, his relationship with both parties in Congress and the extent to which he is willing to bend in fighting for his agenda,” she writes.  “With some fellow Democrats balking over his insistence that both the House and the Senate pass health legislation before the August recess, Mr. Obama has a tough decision to make: Does he take a hard line, demanding that lawmakers stick to his timetable — and risk losing the support of Republicans and moderate Democrats? Or does he signal flexibility, allowing lawmakers to take their time — and give opponents the chance to marshal their case against the bill?” (And cue the fact-checkers and spinmeisters: White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel says the president will talk about “how we rescued the economy from the worst recession.”)  A chance to slow momentum that’s slouching toward the wrong direction: “After weeks of bad news about costs, the defection of moderate Democrats, and a negative drumbeat from Republicans, President Obama will use a televised news conference tonight in a bid to shore up public support for his sweeping plan to cover the uninsured and reform the healthcare system,” The Boston Globe’s Lisa Wangsness writes.  All in: “President Barack Obama is significantly raising his personal stake in the effort to overhaul America’s health-care system, as Democrats and the public express growing unease about the costs,” The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler, Jonathan Weisman and Gerald F. Seib report.  Said former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.: “I think the risk of failure goes up consequentially if we don’t get it done by the August break.” Somebody tell the House Ways and Means Chairman: “No one wants to tell the speaker that she’s moving too fast and they damn sure don’t want to tell the president,” Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., told a fellow lawmaker Tuesday, per the AP’s David Espo.  Plus, writes Espo: “It was unclear when — or whether — the White House or Democratic leadership would intervene in hopes of expediting legislation that has yet to materialize despite months of negotiations led by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.” Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.: “With all the misinformation and all the challenges of competing ads and the talking heads, people are traumatized.”  House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.: “If we get consensus, we’ll move on it. If we don’t get consensus, I don’t think staying in session is necessarily necessary.”
Wednesday’s scheduled House Energy and Commerce mark-up was abruptly cancelled: “Not a good sign for the Democrats trying to report the bill out from committee onto the floor for a vote,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. “Seven conservative blue dog Democrats on the committee have said they can’t vote for the bill in its current form. Some of those Blue Dogs came to the White House [Tuesday] for a 2 1/2 meeting, an hour of which was with President Obama.”  Can/will deadlines slip? “President Obama may have ratcheted up his rhetoric on health care reform, but late today it appeared Democratic support was wavering for the president’s goal of passing health care bills in the House and Senate before the August recess,” ABC’s Huma Khan and Jonathan Karl report. Said Hoyer: “Members have concerns, and they’re not just Blue Dogs.”  “There’s, I believe, more to be squeezed out” in savings, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tells USA Today’s editorial board.  “After more than week of tirelessly pressuring Congress to move his top domestic priority, it appears increasingly likely President Barack Obama may have to settle for a fallback strategy on health care overhaul,” the AP’s Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar reports. “Instead of votes in the House and Senate by August, the best Democrats may be able to hope for this summer is action by the full House by the end of the month and some sort of agreement on a bipartisan plan in the Senate before lawmakers head home for vacation.”  Some support from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif.: “What I have said was, and I told this to the president, that I will support him 100 percent in healthcare reform, because I think it’s necessary,” he told ABC’s Chris Cuomo, on “Good Morning America” Wednesday. (Though he said he can’t support a specific Obama plan since there really isn’t one.) As for the surtax on the rich: “I don’t think so. I think that you have to come up with interesting ways of funding this healthcare,” Schwarzenegger said. Are Republicans playing politics? “Well, hello,” the governor said with a laugh. (And will Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., get more involved? “The question is if Senator Kennedy is capable to be out there campaigning because, as you know, he is fighting brain cancer,” Schwarzenegger said of his wife’s uncle. “And so I think he’s done his share. I think that now the people on Capitol Hill and the president have to pull it off and just, you know, close the deal.” Why deadlines matter, Part 1: “An Associated Press-GfK Poll shows that a majority of Americans are back to thinking that the country is headed in the wrong direction after a fleeting period in which more thought it was on the right track. Obama still has a solid 55 percent approval rating — better than Bill Clinton and about even with George W. Bush six months into their presidencies — but there are growing doubts about whether he can succeed at some of the biggest items on his to-do list. And there is a growing sense that he is trying to tackle too much too soon.” Part 2, via Gallup: “As the debate over healthcare reform intensifies, the latest USA Today/Gallup poll finds that more Americans disapprove (50%) than approve (44%) of the way U.S. President Barack Obama is handling healthcare policy.”  Just what the debate needed: “A coalition of anti-abortion groups is set to open a new front against Democrats’ efforts to restructure American health care, claiming the plans open a back door to publicly financed abortions,” Politico’s Ben Smith reports. “The groups, which are launching a broad campaign on the issue this week, claim that existing health care proposals constitute a stealth ‘abortion mandate’ that will spend taxpayer money on abortions and require insurance companies to cover abortions — allegations that health care reform supporters call misleading.”  Perspective: “In fact, despite the panicky tone of a lot of the coverage of the debate, all the White House really needs to do this week is to prod Congress into keeping the legislation moving along,” Salon’s Mike Madden writes. “Aides on Capitol Hill expect any bill to wind up being changed, possibly dramatically, in a conference committee once both the House and Senate pass it; what Obama wants right now is just to get it there.”  Michael Gerson sees the moderates’ moment: “It is difficult to imagine that an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress will do nothing on health reform. But as deadlines slip, and moderate arguments gain momentum, the legislation is likely to disappoint liberal Democrats in several ways. . . . Some may accuse such moderates of lacking in boldness or ambition. It is better than lacking in responsibility and good judgment.”  Outside the noise: “[Senate Finance] Committee members say they are trying to resolve potential controversies behind closed doors, to produce a bill that can withstand the close scrutiny. And on Tuesday, senior panel members expressed confidence that they could complete committee action on such a bill before President Obama’s Aug. 7 deadline — and, in the process, attract significant bipartisan support,” The Washington Post’s Shailagh Murray and Ceci Connolly report.  Noise back home: “A week after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said it was a ‘waste of money to have Democrats running ads against Democrats,’ two liberal groups launch an ad tomorrow that takes on one of the Senate’s most powerful Democrats,” per ABC’s Elizabeth Gorman. “The new ad from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America singles out Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., for accepting more than $3.9 million dollars – more than any other senator — from ‘health and insurance interests,’ according to the coalition.”  Shutting down the noise: “Invoking an argument used by President George W. Bush, the Obama administration has turned down a request from a watchdog group for a list of health industry executives who have visited the White House to discuss the massive healthcare overhaul,” Peter Nicholas writes in the Los Angeles Times.  (Flashback to July 2008, via Politico: ” ‘If he were elected president, his inclination would be to be much more transparent than this particular White House has been,’ said Greg Craig, a senior adviser to the Obama campaign. As an example, Craig said the secrecy surrounding Cheney’s energy task force ‘is not in Obama’s DNA,’ and that the Illinois Democrat would never go to such lengths — in Cheney’s case, a Supreme Court fight — to prevent the American people from learning the identities of people with whom their leaders have been meeting.”)  If you’re keeping score, Wednesday will bring Senate speech No. 25 on health care for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. — this time emphasizing “the need to get it right rather than rush,” per an aide. From the other side: Democrats are launching a new Web ad, “Playing Politics,” highlighting the Republican strategy to ” ‘kill’ health care reform and ‘break’ the president while millions of Americans struggle under the burden of sky-rocketing health care costs,” per a DNC official. (Featuring Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele, and senators Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Jim DeMint, R-S.C.)  Also Wednesday, at the White House: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki meets with President Obama in the Oval Office. “This is the beginning of a long-lasting, normal bilateral relationship with a sovereign nation of Iraq,” an administration official tells ABC’s Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller.  A big win for the president — and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.: “Senators put the brakes on a controversial effort to buy seven pricey fighter jets with taxpayer money today, avoiding a showdown that had promised to set the stage for President Obama’s first potential veto,” ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf, Luis Martinez and Kate Barrett report.  Tweets @SenJohnMcCain (in response to @jaketapper): “the F-22 amendment is a crucial vote on whether we can prevail over the Military Industrial Congressional Complex or not.”  “Tuesday’s strong Senate vote to halt production of the F-22 fighter breathes new life into Pentagon procurement reforms and provides a much needed boost for President Barack Obama’s larger change agenda,” Politico’s David Rogers and Jen DiMascio reports. 
Next fight up — and pay attention to the name on the amendment: “South Dakota Sen. John Thune will step into the national spotlight today when the Senate votes on his measure that would allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines,” The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza reports. “The legislation has draw huge attention in recent days — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called it a ‘misguided proposal’ on Tuesday — which has amounted to a sort of coming-out party for Thune.” Selling the stimulus: “The White House has dispatched senior aides to give key speeches and is contacting reporters from regional and national newspapers, offering a detailed slide show illustrating the economy’s progress,” The Denver Post’s Michael Riley reports. “In many ways, it is an effort at expectations management. One slide points out that in the past three recessions, job losses continued well after the downturns were officially over.”  Over where unemployment has topped 15 percent: “Key White House advisers offered a spirited defense of the $787-billion stimulus bill Tuesday evening, with press secretary Robert Gibbs saying it was always intended to ‘cushion the blow’ of the recession, not solve it outright,” per the Detroit Free Press’ Todd Spangler. “The meeting with regional reporters came as President Barack Obama’s administration is trying to forge ahead on health care reform and beat back accusations from Republican critics that the stimulus legislation — passed by Congress and signed into law in February — has failed to meet expectations and stem job losses.”  And: ” . . . the administration is sticking to its prediction that, in the end, the stimulus bill will save or create 3 millon jobs.” You didn’t think she’d go quietly, did you? “An independent investigator has found evidence that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin may have violated ethics laws by accepting private donations to pay her legal debts,” ABC’s Kate Snow and Kristina Wong report. “It’s the latest legal distraction for the former vice presidential candidate as she prepares to leave office this weekend, and one thick with irony — the same vehicle Palin is using to fight ethics charges is now being called a potential ethics violation itself.”  “The report obtained by The Associated Press says Palin is securing unwarranted benefits and receiving improper gifts through the Alaska Fund Trust, set up by supporters,” the AP’s Rachel D’Oro reports. “An investigator for the state Personnel Board says in his July 14 report that there is probable cause to believe Palin used or attempted to use her official position for personal gain because she authorized the creation of the trust as her legal defense fund. The practical effect of the ruling on Palin will be more financial than anything else.”  First, the Tweet, from @AKGovSarahPalin (will her sign-on change when she leaves office?): “Re inaccurate story floating re:ethics violation/Legal Defense Fund;matter is still pending;new info was just requested even;no final report.”  Later, the longer statement from Palin, per the Anchorage Daily News: “I find the notion that I have taken any action pertaining to the legal defense trust fund misguided and factually in error. I am informed that this fund was created by experienced attorneys in DC and was modeled after other similar funds established for senators and others. The fund itself was not created by me nor is it controlled by me. Neither I nor my lawyer has received a penny from this fund, and I am informed the Trustee was withholding any action or payment pending final resolution with the Personnel Board. This is the hallmark of legal compliance and prudent conduct.”  Your Sonia Sotomayor news: “Calling her Judiciary Committee testimony ‘evasive, lacking in substance and, in several instances, incredibly misleading,’ Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl said he will vote against Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court,” ABC’s Jan Crawford Greenburg reports.  “Kyl, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, will announce his decision on the Senate floor Wednesday morning. After asking Sotomayor tough questions last week and being clearly dissatisfied by her answers, his decision is not unexpected. It is, however, significant, because it shows the Republican leadership clearly standing firm against Sotomayor — even a Senator from a state with a significant Hispanic population.” The primary that won’t go away: “Rep. Carolyn Maloney is charging full speed ahead with plans to challenge Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, convinced voters won’t hold her use of the N-word against her,” the New York Daily News’ Michael Saul reports. ” ‘There is no impact,’ Maloney’s senior aide Paul Blank insisted. . . . Blank said Maloney will officially announce her Democratic primary campaign against Gillibrand on Monday or Tuesday.”
  Also in New York: “Republicans are wasting little time in attacking the leading Democratic candidate to replace outgoing Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.), launching television advertisements before McHugh has even resigned his seat,” The Hill’s Reid Wilson writes. “The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has already taken its first shot at state Sen. Darrel Aubertine (D), launching a round of automated calls on Tuesday hitting the first-term state senator for voting in favor of new taxes in the state budget.”  New Quinnipiac poll: “Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s 2010 reelection lead over Republican challenger Pat Toomey has shrunk to a tie with 45 percent for Specter and 44 percent for Toomey, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. And voters say 49-40 percent that Sen. Specter does not deserve reelection.” (Specter is up 55-23 over Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., in a primary match-up.)
The Kicker: “I’m going to move on with my life. . . . The question is, Will you? — Gov. Mark Sanford
“I cannot believe that a Frenchman visiting Kiev went back home and told his colleagues he discovered something and didn’t say he discovered the most beautiful women in the world. That’s my observation.” — Vice President Joe Biden, to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.
Today on the “Top Line” political Webcast, live at noon ET: Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee; and Ana Marie Cox of Air America. Follow The Note on Twitter: http://twitter.com/thenote For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day:

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