President Obama and the Final Push

Mar 21, 2010 6:15pm

In an effort to settle the dispute over the abortion language in the health care reform bill, President Obama today spoke with roughly a dozen Democratic members of Congress – both those who support abortion rights such as Reps. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, and those whose opposition to legal abortion became a possible stumbling block for the bill’s passage. President Barack Obama talks on the phone with a Member of Congress in the Chief of Staff 's office at the White House, March 21, 2010. From left, aides Phil Schiliro, Sean Sweeney, Rahm Emanuel, Jim Messina, and DanTurton. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) The president interrupted a White House staff meeting this morning, bursting into the office of White house chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. “This is a big day for us – if we win,” the president said. “Let’s get this done.” But President Obama is taking anything for granted, White House sources say. He’s already a somewhat superstitious guy, and ever since his surprising loss to then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, in the New Hampshire primary, he doesn’t take any victory for granted. White House sources say that last night Democratic leaders had secured the bare minimum number of votes necessary for a win, 216, but some of those were from Members of Congress who had told the leadership they didn’t want to vote for the bill but they wouldn’t be the ones to let it fail. “You can’t rely on people like that,” says a top Democrat, “because they vote early, run away and turn off their cell phones.” President Barack Obama talks to a Member of Congress on the phone in the Oval Office, March 21, 2010. Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs Phil Schiliro works in the background. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) Today Democrats have more than 216 votes, White House and Capitol Hill sources say. President Obama was said to be confused by the political thinking of two House Democrats who voted for the bill last November but have since announced their intention to vote against this version: Reps. Zack Space, D-Ohio, and Michael Arcuri, D-NY, who represent swing districts. In addition to arguing in favor of the merits of the legislation, sources say President Obama and White House officials in recent days impressed upon Space and Arcuri that their political reasoning made little sense. Republicans will attack them for having voted for the bill in November, with little regard to their final vote. Moreover, voting against the final passage may depress turnout by the loyal Democratic base and even anger activists such as those with Moveon.org and labor unions. In short, the Space/Arcuri Yes then No — in sheer political terms — invites the worst of both worlds. The president also telephoned and thanked retiring Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., who voted against the House version of the bill last November but today announced he would vote for the Senate version and its “fixes.” After the vote this evening, President Obama will give a statement currently scheduled to be in the State Dining Room. The vote is expected after 10 pm ET. The White House has not yet decided where or when the president will sign the Senate bill, which he needs to do before the fixes to that bill begin to be debated in the Senate, though White House officials say it will not be this evening. -jpt

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