Exclusive: President Obama Says Voter Anger, Frustration Key to Republican Victory in Massachusetts Senate

Obama to Senate: don't "jam" through health care until Brown is seated

January 20, 2010, 9:35 AM

Jan. 20, 2010— -- President Obama warned Democrats in Congress today not to "jam" a health care reform bill through now that they've lost their commanding majority in the Senate, and said they must wait for newly elected Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown to be sworn into office.

The president also said the same voter anger that swept him into office in 2008 carried Brown into office on a stunning upset victory Tuesday night over heavily favored Democrat Martha Coakley.

Watch George Stephanopoulos' exclusive interview with Obama tonight on "World News" and "Nightline" and tomorrow on "Good Morning America." Check your local listings.

"Here's my assessment of not just the vote in Massachusetts, but the mood around the country: the same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office," the president said in an exclusive interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos. "People are angry and they are frustrated. Not just because of what's happened in the last year or two years, but what's happened over the last eight years."

Brown defeated Coakley in the special election to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

With his victory, Brown becomes the 41st Republican vote in the Senate -- meaning Democrats have lost the 60-seat super-majority they need in the Senate to avoid a Republican filibuster.

Obama insisted today that the Senate wait for Brown to be seated before they make any changes to its version of the health care reform legislation.

"Here's one thing I know and I just want to make sure that this is off the table: The Senate certainly shouldn't try to jam anything through until Scott Brown is seated," the president said. "People in Massachusetts spoke. He's got to be part of that process."

"I think point number two is that it is very important to look at the substance of this package and for the American people to understand that a lot of the fear mongering around this bill isn't true," Obama said.

Obama also said it was important for the American people to take a look at the substance and details of the health care reform legislation that Congress is considering.

Read excerpts of the exclusive interview here.

President Obama Says to 'Coalesce' Around 'Core Elements'

"I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on," he said.

The president said there are "core elements" to the health care legislation that both Republicans and Democrats agree on and they must come together to work for comprehensive reform.

"We know that we need insurance reform, that the health insurance companies are taking advantage of people. We know that we have to have some form of cost containment, because if we don't, then our budgets are going to blow up," he said. "And we know that small businesses are going to need help so that they can provide health insurance for their families. Those are the core, some of the core elements of this bill."

If a bill were to be pushed through Congress before Brown takes office, it would be up to the House to accept the changes in the bill that the Senate wants. That would eliminate the need for the Senate to vote on it again. Obama did not pressure the House to accept the Senate's version of the reform bill.

"I think it is very important for the House to make its determinations. I think, right now, they're feeling obviously unsettled and there were a bunch of provisions in the Senate bill that they didn't like, and so I can't force them to do that," he said.

"Now I will tell you," he added, "and I've said this before, that the House and the Senate bill overlap about 90 percent. And so, it does seem to me that there should be a way of, after all this work and all this pain, there should be a way of taking what's best in both bills and going ahead and getting that done."

Brown campaigned against the legislation that the Senate passed with a straight partisan vote on Christmas Eve. Even some prominent Democratic leaders have said that his victory signals the death of the health care bill.

Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid insisted today that the Democrats' plan for a health care overhaul will move forward.

"We will move forward with those considerations in mind, but we will move forward," Pelosi, D-Calif., told the U.S. Conference of Mayors today. She did not specify what Plan B is.

Reid would only vaguely say, "There are a lot of different options out there."

Read excerpts of the exclusive interview here.

ABC News' Huma Khan contributed to this report.