WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama, trying to regain control of the health-care debate, will likely shift his pitch in September, White House and Democratic officials said, as he faces pressure from supporters to talk more about the moral imperative to provide health insurance to all Americans.

The rethinking comes amid a struggle by the White House to clarify its view on a public insurance plan, which liberals see as a critical part of a health overhaul. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Sunday that a public plan isn't the "essential element" of a health bill, prompting sharp words from liberal groups.

The muddle continued Tuesday, with White House spokesman Robert Gibbs facing repeated questioning at his news briefing on whether the position has changed and how the president will respond to the liberal concerns.

Gibbs said the president's "preferred method" is the public plan "but he's certainly open to looking at and discussing other ideas." Sebelius insisted, "We continue to support the public option."

The president is expected to present a more emotional appeal during a conference call Wednesday with liberal religious groups. A senior White House official said the message would be tailored to the groups' moral emphases, although he cautioned the president's message to religious groups may not herald a broader shift in themes.

"This is such a technical issue, it's easy to get bogged down in the weeds," said Dan Nejfelt, a spokesman for Faith in Public Life, one of the groups scheduled for the Wednesday call. "It's important to have a voice saying, 'This is about right and wrong. This is about honoring faith.'"

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