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Obama, under fire for health law stumbles, tries to hit reset with supporters

 

Under fire from the right and the left for the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama took a break from the hostile questioning of reporters and lawmakers to spend some time with another group -- his most loyal supporters.

The president got on the phone Monday night with supporters from Organizing for Action, his de facto campaign arm, urging them to help Americans sign up for health coverage through means other than the glitch-ridden website.

The president did misspeak when he claimed that "more than 100 million Americans" had enrolled in new insurance plans, a reference to the 106,000 Americans who actually did sign up for coverage through the ObamaCare exchanges. 

Obama said people should be encouraged to sign up for ObamaCare in person, on the phone or through the mail, saying the HealthCare.gov website can't be the only way for people to purchase insurance through new exchanges.

He said it turns out that purchasing insurance is complicated and not everyone will use the website, but he's still confident the website will work for most Americans by Nov. 30.

"Effectively, in a month, you've already got half a million Americans who will likely have the security of health care for the first time, in some cases in their lives, as soon as January 1st," Obama said. "And that is life-changing."

Obama also urged his supporters to continue to fight to promote the law in the midst of criticism surrounding it, saying the law's foes are spreading misinformation.

The call on Monday night represented one of the few remaining environments he can control; unlike last week's press conference in the White House briefing room where he faced tough, at times aggressive, questions from reporters. Though Obama is no longer campaigning for office, he's still pushing several major pieces of legislation in his remaining three years -- and trying to convince his base to keep the faith on ObamaCare. 

The president apologized last week for the problem-plagued rollout, and specifically for the millions of cancellation notices that have gone out from insurance companies due to ObamaCare rules, despite his own promise that people could keep their plans if they wanted. Obama, in a sudden about-face, announced that his administration would allow insurance companies to continue offering out-of-compliance plans for another year. 

That decision, coupled with the ongoing problems with the ObamaCare website, has stirred concern about the future health of the program. Many insurance companies and commissioners are loath to try and claw back the cancellation notices they've sent out. And while moderate Democrats had pressed the administration to make the change, others suggested the move was unnecessary. 

On the president's left flank, the concern is that Obama went too far in caving to the pressure from cancellation notices. 

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the president is being "gracious" but "that doesn't mean that there was anything in the law that said if you like what you had before 2010 you couldn't keep it." 

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., on ABC's "This Week," also suggested lawmakers knew all along that people could lose their plans -- because they wouldn't meet the minimum standards under the law. 

"[Obama] should have just been specific," Gillibrand said. "No, we all knew, the whole point of the plan is to cover things people need, like preventive care, birth control, pregnancy." 

In an email to supporters on Friday, Obama said: "I want to cut through the noise and talk with you directly about where we're headed in the fight for change." 

Strategist David Axelrod, in another message on Sunday, urged backers to reserve their spot on the call, saying "OFA has a big role to play here." 

But even some of the president's most trusted hands are starting to raise questions about the administration. Former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, speaking Monday on NBC's "Today," reiterated his call for firings over the botched rollout of the website. 

He said the president is likely frustrated that nobody told him of the problems. 

Former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card Jr., who served under George W. Bush, though, told Fox News that it's "not credible" to think the White House didn't know what was going on. 

"I suspect the president even knew," Card said. "I think it's time for strong new leadership to come in."

The Associated Press contributed to this report