The Obama White House, shell-shocked by the victory of Republican Scott Brown in the Massachusetts U.S. Senate special election, no longer predicts Congress will pass the health care legislation now before it.
"I think it's always hard to tell how these things sort out in the first hours, " Senior Obama Adviser David Axelrod told Fox when asked if health care was now dead. "I think people are trying to figure this out. We'll know more soon. I don't believe people came all this way and are going to walk away from it. I think it would be a terrible mistake."
Asked again if he was sure Congress would pass health care, Axelrod hesitated.
"I believe there is going to be a will to move forward," Axelrod said. "The benefits of doing it are much greater than the peril of not moving forward at this point."
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that President Obama is open to changes in health care legislation and that with changes, possibly large ones that scale existing legislation back, "we can and should get health care reform done this year."
But Axelrod said the White House doesn't want any Senate action on health care until Brown is seated.
"I think it would be inappropriate," he said. "I think the people of Massachusetts would consider it inappropriate, and that's something we won't do."
Late Tuesday, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., called on the Senate to stop all health care legislation until Brown is seated. Axelrod's was the first signal that the White House agreed.
At the daily briefing, Gibbs said Obama's team and Democrats in Congress were "working through the best way forward" and that includes exploring "a lot of different paths."
Gibbs did not deny Obama told ABC News in an interview that he wants lawmakers to "coalesce around" popular aspects of the Democratically drafted House and Senate health care bills.
Gibbs also said the White House "bears some responsibility," for the frustration that fueled Brown's stunning victory over Democrat Martha Coakley. Brown is the first Republican elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts since 1966. Brooke was re-elected in 1972.