In Interview with Diane Sawyer, President Obama Calls Not Living Up to Transparency Promise “A Mistake”

Jan 25, 2010 9:01pm

In Diane Sawyer's interview with President Obama today, she asked him if going forward all the conversations should be on C-SPAN.

"I think your question points out to a legitimate mistake that I made during the course of the year," the president said, "and that is that we had to make so many decisions quickly in a very difficult set of circumstances that after awhile, we started worrying more about getting the policy right than getting the process right.

"But I had campaigned on process," the president continued. "Part of what I had campaigned on was changing how Washington works, opening up transparency and I think it is — I think the health care debate as it unfolded legitimately raised concerns not just among my opponents, but also amongst supporters that we just don't know what's going on. And it's an ugly process and it looks like there are a bunch of back room deals.

Mr. Obama said, "I think it's my responsibility — and I'll be speaking to this at the State of the Union — to own up to the fact that the process didn't run the way I ideally would like it to and that we have to move forward in a way that recaptures that sense of opening things up more."

This was a remarkable admission considering how much others in the White House have acted as if President Obama kept his promise to — as he pledged as a candidate — "have the (health care reform) negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so the people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents and who is making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies."

Diane today said to the president, "a lot of people think you must say at the end of the day, this is not who I was in 2008, these deals with Nebraska, with Florida… "

"Let's hold on a second, Diane," the president cut in. "I mean, I think that this gets into a big mush. So let's just clarify. I didn't make a bunch of deals. There is a legislative process that is taking place in Congress and I am happy to own up to the fact that I have not changed Congress and how it operates the way I would have liked."

In a way, the president's admission today that he campaigned on process, and didn't live up to his words from the campaign trail, were the only honest answer he could give. Politifact had labeled it a broken promise, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., seemed to take a jab at the president earlier this month, joking, "there are a number of things that he swore on the campaign trail."

Still, in December, when I asked if the president would keep his campaign promise and have the last round of negotiations televised by C-SPAN, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said "this is a process legislatively that has played out over the course of nine months.  There have been a countless number of public hearings.  The Senate did a lot of their voting at 1:00 and 2:00 in the morning on C-SPAN.  A lot of this debate — I think what the president promised and pledged was so that you could see who was fighting for their constituents and who was fighting for drug and insurance companies…"

But he was talking about negotiations, not voting, I interrupted. About the bill being put together.

"Well, but the bill gets put together on the floor of the Senate," Gibbs said. "That's where the bill got augmented."

Gibbs was asked about this earlier this month — on January 5 and January 6 — once other details of the negotiations were made public after hours and hours of closed door negotiations in the West Wing. Gibbs argued that since the media had written and broadcast many stories on the subject, obviously there were no serious transparency issues.

"We've filled your newspaper and many others with the back-and-forth and the details of what's in these bills," Gibbs told a reporter. "I don't want to keep that from continuing to happen.  I don't think there's anybody that would say that we haven't had a thorough, robust, now spanning two calendar years' debate on health care."

- jpt

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