Published February 25, 2010
President Obama and Arizona Sen. John McCain revisited their 2008 presidential race in a testy exchange Thursday at the White House-hosted health care summit in which the president told his vanquished Republican challenger to get over his loss.
At the end of extended remarks by McCain about the contentious process that brought 38 of 535 lawmakers to the presidential guest quarters at Blair House to discuss the stalled health care overhaul, McCain noted that both men campaigned in 2008 on bringing change to Washington.
"In fact, eight times you said that negotiations on health care reform would be conducted with the C-SPAN cameras. I'm glad more than a year later that they are here," McCain said.
The senator then added that the Democratic health care bill was not produced in a transparent fashion but was achieved through "dealmaking" for Lousiana, Nebraska and Florida as well as smaller "carve-outs" for Vermont and Massachusetts, Hawaii, Michigan and Connecticut.
"And at the town hall meetings that I conducted all over my state, people are angry. We promised them change in Washington and what we got was a process that you and I both said we would change in Washington," he said.
As McCain went on to talk about the influence of special interests and lobbyists, Obama tried to interject to which McCain asked if he could finish his statement.
He then spoke for another couple minutes. Obama then responded.
"Let me just make this point, John, because we're not campaigning anymore. The election's over," Obama said.
"Well, I'm reminded of that every day," McCain said to laughter in the room.
"Well, I -- yes. So, we can spend the remainder of the time with our respective talking points, going back and forth. We were supposed to be talking about insurance," Obama replied.
Obama then said he's sure that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn., could respond to complaints about the "exhaustive process" by which the health care bill was reached.
But, he said, "My concern is is that if we do that, then we're essentially back on Fox News or MSNBC on the split screen just arguing back and forth. So, my hope would be that we can just focus on the issues of how we actually get a bill done. And this would probably be a good time to turn it over to Secretary Sebelius who..."
McCain finished, "Could I just say, Mr. President, the American people care about what we did and how we did it?"
Obama agreed, adding, "I think that the way you characterized it obviously would get some strong objections from the other side. We can have a debate about process or we can have a debate about how we're actually going to help the American people at this point. And I think that's -- the latter debate's the one that they care about a little bit more."
After a lunch break, McCain briefly reiterated his distaste for a provision that exempts 800,000 seniors in Florida from cuts to Medicare Advantage, to which Obama briefly replied: "I think you make a legitimate point."
McCain gestured as if to make another point, but then sat back silently in apparent pleasure at his small victory.