President Obama’s news conference today was notable for its multiple apologies. But it may have been just as powerful for its admissions.
We heard the president admit that the federal government screwed up on a huge project it might never been able to handle; that his own “credibility” is suffering after he misled the public on a core promise on which he built his signature accomplishment; that a broken website might not be completely fixed by a new, self-imposed deadline; and that he’s only now discovering such things as “insurance is complicated to buy.”
“We did fumble the ball,” the president said in a sports analogy he returned to four times in the course of more than 50 minutes he spent in the White House press briefing room.
Just as powerful was an admission he didn’t make explicitly, but didn’t have to: The president is clearly worried about saving his legacy project.
He’s seeking to implement an enormously complicated law with a still-broken, front-end portal. The back-end product – a remade nationwide health insurance market – might not work and, indeed, was complicated by the very fix he rolled out today.
Worries surrounding the politics and the policy are colliding. The president’s most immediate threat could come from a rebellion inside his own party, fueled by his own sinking approval ratings and a growing sense of dread among Democrats about being blamed for failures of the federal government.
“I feel deeply responsible for making it harder for them rather than easier for them to continue to promote the core values that I think led them to support this thing in the first place,” the president said in another of his apologetic statements.
And yet, there was an element of deflection in his voice: It was “we fumbled” and “we should have done a better job,” as often as the blame was cast in the first person.
As the president admitted, he needs to “win back some credibility” on this health care law (he never once called it “Obamacare” today) even as he tries to implement it the right way.
“I am very frustrated,” he said, “but I’m also somebody who, if I fumble the ball, you know, I’m going to wait until I get the next play, and then I’m going to try to run as hard as I can and do right by the team.
“Ultimately, I’m the head of this team,” he said. “We did fumble the ball on it. And what I’m going to do is make sure that we get it fixed.”
The clock, of course, is ticking, on this law and on the biggest thing the Obama presidency has accomplished.