Published February 26, 2010
Of all the hats President Obama tried on at Thursday's seven-and-a-half-hour health care summit, it appeared the one he was most comfortable wearing was that of the prickly professor.
In between playing the roles of moderator and deal-maker, the president took several opportunities to dress down his classroom of Republican critics. Through a series of awkward clashes between him and the Republicans, the summit may have served more to portray Republicans as intransigents intent on stonewalling a bill no matter what, than it served to pave the way for a compromise.
Democrats hit that message in the aftermath.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that the summit made clear Republicans "were accepting of the status quo."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Obama "the most patient man in the world" for putting up with the day-long session.
While Democrats said the White House and Congress may incorporate GOP ideas in their health care package in light of the summit, there were few signs that any Republican minds were changed. Hours of debate with the president appeared to leave GOP participants embittered.
Most memorable was a brief argument between Obama and Sen. John McCain, his Republican rival in the 2008 presidential campaign. Obama scolded McCain after the Arizona senator spent several minutes complaining that the health reform process has not been transparent and suggesting that the "change" they both campaigned on has not been realized in Washington.
"Let me just make this point, John, because we're not campaigning anymore," Obama said. "The election's over."
McCain said he was well aware of that fact.
Asked about the exchange Friday, McCain told Fox News he doesn't think the president meant any disrespect, but he suggested Obama was intentionally trying to avoid the issue of transparency.
"I think the president of the United States was probably trying to in a way not directly respond to what clearly was a campaign promise," McCain said. "But I wasn't talking about the campaign -- what I was talking about is the sleazy deals ... that went on in this process."
Obama also gave House Minority Whip Eric Cantor a stern talking-to when he noticed that the Virginia Republican had stacked the more than 2,000-page bill in front of him while he griped that patients would not be able to maintain the same level of coverage under the Democrats' plan.
Obama briefly addressed the coverage point and then turned to the stacked health care bill.
"You know, when we do props like this, you stack it up and you repeat 2,400 pages, et cetera -- the truth of the matter is that health care is very complicated. And we can try to pretend that it's not, but it is," Obama said. "These are the kind of political things we do that prevent us from actually having a conversation."
The president again had choice words for Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., after the senator said individual premiums will rise if the Senate bill passes.
Alexander was correct insofar as the Congressional Budget Office estimates individual policy premiums would be 10 to 13 percent higher by 2016 than premiums under current policy. But his comments ignored the fact that subsidies would be available to defray the increases.
The president, however, told Alexander he was flat-out wrong -- that his claim was "not factually accurate."
He noted that family coverage would go down in price. For those premiums that rise, Obama clarified, they would be for "better coverage" than the "bad insurance" people currently have.
The president also laid down the law when he explained that he spoke longer than everyone else "because I'm the president," and when he concluded that if Republicans won't join him, then "we've got to go ahead."
While Republicans walked out saying they had not been won over, Obama's Democratic colleagues praised him for holding the summit -- and for enduring it.
"The most patient man in the world is Barack Obama," Reid said. "He sat through that and listened to everything and was so patient and responsive. It was a issue-oriented meeting. The president let everybody talk and talk and talk."