It's 'Sorry' Season In Washington

Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • 'I'M SORRY': President Obama last night apologized to Americans who are losing their health care coverage amid a firestorm of criticism over his promise that under Obamacare "if you like your plan, you can keep your plan." "I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me," Obama told NBC News, ABC's MARY BRUCE reports. In the past week, the president has tried to walk back his promise, adding caveats that you can keep your plan if you have "insurance that works" or "if it hasn't changed since the law passed." Consumers who buy insurance on their own - roughly 5 percent of the population - may be forced to switch their plans because their providers have made changes that don't meet the new standards required under the Affordable Care Act. "I regret very much that what we intended to do, which is to make sure that everybody is moving into better plans because they want them, as opposed to because they're forced into it. That, you know, we weren't as clear as we needed to be in terms of the changes that were taking place," the president told NBC.
  • 'WE APOLOGIZE FOR THAT': In a recent interview with CNN's Headline News, Vice President Joe Biden said that although the problems with HealthCare.Gov were being fixed as quickly as possible, "it's not and we apologize for that. We are confident that by the end of November it will be." In the same interview, Biden acknowledged that neither he nor the president "are technology geeks and we assumed that it was up and ready to run." In last week's interview Biden added, "The President tried to get online and my daughter tried to get online. I did not, because it was clear that I wasn't getting online."
  • 'I APOLOGIZE': Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized publicly for the first time for the troubled roll out of the new federal insurance marketplace, ABC's DEVIN DWYER notes. "Let me say directly to these Americans: you deserve better," Sebelius said in testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in Washington. "I apologize." Sebelius said the launch of the online marketplace has gone "miserably" since Oct. 1. "I am as frustrated and angry as anyone," she added. "I am eager to earn your confidence back."
  • 'I WANT TO APOLOGIZE': A day before Sebelius testified, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services chief Marilyn Tavenner - the Obama administration official dubbed "quarterback" of the Affordable Care Act's implementation - also apologized for the rocky roll out of "To the millions of Americans who've attempted to use to shop and enroll in health care coverage, I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should," Tavenner said in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee. "We know how desperately you need affordable coverage. I want to assure you that can and will be fixed, and we are working around the clock to deliver the shopping experience that you deserve," she said.

ANALYSIS - ABC's RICK KLEIN: Apologies are nice, even welcome, when an elected official is caught making an inaccurate claim he could never have backed up. But the hard part to make good on in President Obama's interview with NBC last night was in his vow to "do everything we can" to take care of people who are finding out they won't be able to keep their health care after all. There are bills for that - Republican bills, naturally - that would seek to make explicit the president's now abandoned pledge. Supporting them, though, brings its own problems - upsetting the balance of the insurance exchanges, which of course are having their own troubles just adjusting to current regulations about which plans are viable moving forward. The president, meanwhile, is exhausting his patience among members of his own party. Fixing his old pledge, while his administration is still finding new problems to fix on the Website, is just something to add to a tenuous mix.

THIS WEEK ON 'THIS WEEK': Fresh off his commanding win in Tuesday's election, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie goes one-on-one with GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, live Sunday on "This Week." Plus, Texas Gov. Rick Perry joins "This Week" from Iowa on his first trip to the Hawkeye State since the 2012 election. And our powerhouse roundtable tackles all the week's politics, with ABC News' Cokie Roberts, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot, Republican strategist Ana Navarro, and New York Magazine's John Heilemann, co-author of "Double Down." And Canada's Jon Stewart, George Stroumboulopoulos, weighs in on the Toronto mayor's wild week. Be sure to use #ThisWeek when you tweet about the program. TUNE IN SUNDAY: Read an excerpt of "Double Down":


WHY DID DEEP THROAT LEAK? REVISITING THE WATERGATE LEAKS AND THE GARAGE WHERE IT ALL BEGAN. Why did FBI official Mark Felt become Deep Throat? The popular narrative is that Felt leaked details of the Watergate scandal to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward out of an altruistic motive to expose Richard Nixon's corrupt presidency. But Watergate expert Max Holland has a different take. "I believe that Woodward was essentially an asset of Felt's in his campaign to become FBI director," said Holland. "Top Line's" RICK KLEIN and JOSH MARGOLIN caught up with Holland in the same spot where Felt and Woodward once met in secret - parking spot 32D of an unassuming garage in Arlington, Va., that is expected to be demolished soon. "He thought he was the natural heir because effectively [J. Edgar] Hoover was suffering from old age, and Felt, in the last year of Hoover's life, was running the bureau," said Holland, who details what he believes were Felt's motives in the book "Leak: Why Felt Became Deep Throat."


NATIONAL ABORTION FIGHT LOOMS LARGE. After years of fighting over abortion at the state level, Democrats and Republicans are teeing up to bring the battle to the national stage, according to ABC's ABBY PHILLIP. Yesterday Senate Republicans introduced controversial legislation to ban abortion after 20 weeks that mirrors one passed in the House of Representatives in June and is part of a nationwide push by Republicans lawmakers to implement prohibitions on abortion from the point at which they believe a fetus can feel pain. "If we can convince the American people to provide assistance and prevent abortions at the 20th week, nothing bad is going to happen," said Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who will co-sponsor the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in the Senate. "Good things will happen; babies will be born that would not have made it otherwise." "And only God knows who they will grow up to be," he added. At the same time, Graham's announcement comes just two days after Democrats declared that support for abortion was a key issue that led to Democrat Terry McAuliffe's victory over outspokenly anti-abortion Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the hotly contested Virginia governor race. Their argument: if the Va. Governor race is a test case for 2014, as both parties have suggested, then Democrats should go on the offense on abortion and other social issues. "When we looked at the abortion issue, the public was overwhelmingly on our side," said McAuliffe's campaign manager Robby Mook at an event with Planned Parenthood yesterday.

GETTING MORE GLITCHY: OBAMACARE PORTAL FACES NEW WOES. That punch list isn't getting any shorter. Software engineers and tech analysts scrambling to fix are discovering new problems by the day, as early fixes take hold and users are able to navigate more deeply into the troubled online application process, administration officials said yesterday, according to ABC's DEVIN DWYER. "We are seeing volume go further down the application. What that means is we are identifying new issues," said Julie Bataille, communications director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency overseeing the site improvement. "As volume is exposed to the system, we are identifying new issues, adding them to the punch list and working through them," she told reporters on a daily conference call. The new complications were described as "capacity issues" and "software issues" within the application and enrollment process, including the steps to determine an applicants eligibility for a subsidy and compare plans.

FIFTEENTH REPUBLICAN INCUMBENT QUITS HOUSE. Rep. Howard Coble, a Korean War veteran and 15-term House Republican from North Carolina, yesterday became the 15th House Republican incumbent to decide not to seek reelection to the House of Representatives in next fall's congressional midterm elections, ABC's JOHN PARKINSON reports. Coble becomes the ninth Republican to retire, while six others have launched campaigns for the Senate. The aging Republican Party, which mourned the death of its longest-serving member, Rep. Bill Young, last month, could present House Speaker John Boehner with his toughest defense of the Speaker's gavel next year. In addition to Coble and Young, who died Oct. 18 but had announced he would retire after the 113thCongress just weeks before his passing, the seven other House Republicans sworn in at the beginning of the Congress who have thrown in the towel are Jo Bonner, R-Ala.; Rodney Alexander, R-La.; Spencer Bachus, R-Ala.; Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.; John Campbell, R-Calif.; Tim Griffin, R-Ark.; and Jon Runyan, R-N.J., who announced his retirement Wednesday after serving just two terms. Bonner and Alexander resigned earlier this year rather than serve out the remainder of their terms. Georgia Reps. Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston; Shelley Moore Capito, W.V.; Bill Cassidy, La.; and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., all have decided to run for the U.S. Senate rather than seek re-election to the House. On the other hand, just three House Democrats have decided to seek alternate public office. None have announced their intent to retire.

RICK PERRY, IN IOWA, STIRS SPECULATION ON 2016 RUN. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said yesterday he jumped into the last presidential campaign too late, which provided a valuable lesson he intends to keep in mind as he weighs his political future, notes ABC's JEFF ZELENY. "If I were to be making a plan for 2016, coming to Iowa early and often will be part of it," Perry told reporters here. "But that's a bit premature." On the opening stop of a two-day visit to Iowa, Perry met with business leaders over lunch, highlighting his economic record during his dozen years as the governor of Texas. He sidestepped questions about whether he intended to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, but seemed to revel in the speculation. "It's fun to be back in Iowa again and see some old familiar faces and continue a conversation that we started nearly two years ago," Perry said. "2016 is so far down the road. It will all take care of itself and sort itself out at the appropriate time." But by agreeing to come to Iowa, where the precinct caucuses have traditionally kicked off the race for the White House, Perry opened the door to an early round of questions about whether he will ask voters to give him a second look.

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT U.S. DIPLOMACY FROM ONE QUESTION. Things are busy in U.S. diplomacy right now. Iran nuclear talks are happening in Geneva, Secretary of State John Kerry is in the Middle East trying to salvage Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and Syria is taking steps toward chemical disarmament, ABC's CHRIS GOOD notes. As Israeli Channel 2 journalist Udi Segal pointed out in an interview yesterday with Kerry, the U.S. has set some aggressive timelines for all these major issues to be resolved. From a transcript of the interview, conducted jointly in Jerusalem with the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation's Maher Shalabi:

-UDI SEGAL: So in the next spring, according to your schedule, Syria will be stripped of its chemical weapons, Iran will have an agreement to stop its nuclear program and we will have a final status agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Could it be that you guys maybe are slightly too optimistic?

-SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: Well, I think you need optimism in a place that has a lot of pessimism. I think it's good to have optimism. The schedule may slip a little here and there, but if you don't have targets, if you don't set ambitious targets, you don't get anything done. We are on target right now with the chemical weapons in Syria. A month ago, nobody would have believed you even had Assad admitting he had weapons. Now, not only has he admitted [to them], but we're moving them out and destroying their capacity. So if it takes a few months longer, I can live with that. With respect to the peace process, we have not set a specific - we've set nine months for the time of negotiation. We are working on trying to bring people to a place where there's an understandable framework for those negotiations. So everybody knows what we're aiming for. And there's a general agreement, maybe not an agreement with every piece of it, but a general agreement of the direction we're moving. And obviously with Iran, we have a target, but the clock is ticking. Iran knows that if they don't meet the standards of the international community the sanctions could be increased and, even worse, if the clock ticked down where you have a very dangerous situation, there may be no option but the military option. We hope to avoid that, but we are clearly moving to try to deal with these issues.

NUMBER OF MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT CASES HIGHER THIS YEAR. New Pentagon statistics show there were more reported sexual assaults in the military in the first nine months of fiscal year 2013 than in all of fiscal year 2012, ABC's LUIS MARTINEZ reports. Pentagon officials speculate some of the 3,553 reports filed between October 2012 and June 2013 might reflect increased confidence in seeking assistance and treatment through the military. The 3,553 reports of sexual assault complaints filed in the first three quarters of 2013 are already more than the 3,374 for all of fiscal year 2012. The 2013 numbers also represent a 46 percent increase over the same time period in 2012. Each of the four branches of the military showed an increase over the same time period, and there was a 64 percent increase in the number of restricted reports. "Restricted reporting" allows sexual assault victims to get medical treatment and mental health counseling without notifying their chain of command. At any time they can change their case to unrestricted reporting, which notifies their chain of command and triggers an investigation. The Pentagon's annual sexual assault statistics are usually presented in the spring, but the preliminary numbers were presented at a hearing held in Washington Thursday.

MOVIES THE WHITE HOUSE IS WATCHING: FROM 'MANDELA' TO 'HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL'. The White House got a dash of Hollywood glamour Thursday night with a screening of the new Nelson Mandela biopic, "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom." Organized by the Weinstein Company, the film's distributor, its stars Idris Elba and Naomie Harris, as well as Mandela's daughters Zindzi and Zenani, joined President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at the screening, ABC's ANNETA KONSTANTINIDES reports. The much-publicized screening could give the film a major push as Hollywood's award season kicks off, with many already calling Elba a sure bet for a Best Actor nomination and the picture a possible underdog vote for Best Picture. But it's hardly the first time the Obamas have waded into Oscar waters. Steven Spielberg stopped by for a screening of his "Lincoln" last year during the heat of awards season, following up a 2010 visit with Tom Hanks to screen the first episode of "The Pacific," the HBO miniseries about Americans who battled in World War II's Pacific theater. The first family also hosted a screening and Q&A for the indie movie "Beasts of the Southern Wild," which surprised many Oscar pundits with a Best Director nomination for first-timer Behn Zeitlin. The Obamas screened "Julie and Julia," about the famous American chef Julia Child right around the time Michelle Obama was promoting her healthy eating initiative. And there's been plenty of family-friendly movies on the family's screening roster for Sasha and Malia. Along with "High School Musical 3? and "Bolt," the family invited Pixar animators for a Father's Day screening of "Monster's University" and brought military dads and their kids for a special showing of "Cars 2."


SENATE PASSES WORKPLACE GAY RIGHTS BILL WITH BIPARTISAN SUPPORT. With the backing of 10 Republican senators, the Senate passed a bill Thursday that bans discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ reports. The Senate voted 64 to 32 in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, also known as ENDA, the first major piece of legislation addressing gay rights since Congress repealed "Don't Ask Don't Tell" in 2010. "Let the bells of freedom ring," Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a news conference Thursday. The gay rights bill drew bipartisan support in the Senate with all Senate Democrats and 10 Republicans supporting ENDA. The Republicans included Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Dean Heller, R-Nev;, Mark Kirk, R-Ill;, John McCain, R-Ariz;, Lisa Murkowski, R-Ala.; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; and Pat Toomey, R-Penn. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., missed the vote because he was with his wife who is recovering from surgery, but he is a strong supporter of the bill and would have voted in favor of it. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives where its prospects are grim. House Speaker John Boehner opposes the legislation and has said he will not bring it up for a vote.


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