Obama seeks to soothe big insurers

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Buzz Cut:
• Obama seeks to soothe big insurers
• Sebelius shields
• Shutdown hurt Virginia, but not GOP candidate
• Puff, puff, pass
• Royal rumble in red

OBAMA SEEKS TO SOOTHE BIG INSURERS - President Obama has summoned health insurance CEOs to the White House today as he attempts continued damage control from the failed launch of his new health-insurance entitlement program. The Hill reports that the insurance executives will be joined by their industry’s top lobbyist for the White House huddle that will include senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. Obama partnered with insurance firms to win passage of ObamaCare in 2010, promising to deliver young, healthy customers to the companies to offset costs associated with new regulations forcing them to cover those with preexisting conditions. But the botched launch of the program is proving dire for the industry. Insurers have reported widespread problems in the accuracy of data received as well as low numbers of enrollees.

[President Obama’s permanent campaign arm, Organizing for Action, is using the continued problems of ObamaCare’s Web site as the basis for a fundraising pitch. Watch Obama’s plea here.]

Explaining to do - While Obama is dealing with frustrations from his industry allies, administration officials will be facing the wrath of congressional Democrats who are under fire from the left and right for their support of the program, expected to be the central issue of the 2014 midterms. While Hill Democrats might be placated with promises of urgent action to fix the fouled Web site and sign-up system, the insurance chiefs are likely to be less understanding. If ObamaCare doesn’t deliver the millions of desirable customers the president has promised, widespread rate shocks even higher than those already reported could cause more insurers to dump customers and get out of the business altogether.

[Texas insurance dump - The Texas Health Insurance pool, which offers insurance to those that cannot qualify under a regular plan, has informed its 94,000 customers they have until Dec. 15 to purchase another plan under ObamaCare. [H/T reader Marc A. Cisneros of San Antonio]

Damaged control - This is a pivotal moment for the president’s effort to rescue his troubled program. The rebuilding of the original coalition for the law is crucial to his hope to get back on track. The president is facing weeks of playing insurance salesman in a bid to get more customers for insurance firms in order to keep the project together. Before he hits the road, he needs to know that the home team is behind him.

[Poll Watch: New Fox News polls will be released at 6 p.m. ET tonight during “Special Report with Bret Baier.” New numbers will include a  shutdown scorecard and the latest on how voters feel about the health law.]

SEBELIUS SHIELDS OBAMA - Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is facing plenty of heat for refusing to answer questions from Congress about her role in the failed launch of ObamaCare’s new health insurance entitlement program. Sebelius has promised to testify next week, but refused requests to appear tomorrow. She is off to Boston today to appear at a gala celebrating federal programs for the mentally ill, but before leaving town she sat down with CNN to defend her agency and President Obama. She told the network that she would have like to have had five years instead of two to construct the Web site that has continued to sputter. She also claimed that Obama had no advance knowledge of the crash despite multiple internal and external warnings of the coming meltdown, suggesting the president learned about the systemic problems along with the public “in the first couple of days.”

[House Budget Committee head Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has sought her testimony since Aug. 15. The department dodged three separate requests and has yet to respond to Ryan’s multiple letters seeking answers. More.]

[Watch Fox: Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, discusses HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ ObamaCare hearing in the 10 a.m. ET hour]

Raving Ravens - While the NFL has ignored pleas from the White House to promote ObamaCare, the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens have accepted a $130,000 contract to promote the entitlement program, according to Washington Examiner.

[WaPo looks at problems plaguing ObamaCare’s insurance co-ops, designed to increase competition but now threatening taxpayers with a $1 billion failure.]

DEM SEEKS DELAY, CITES LAUNCH ‘RIDDLED WITH PROBLEMS’ - Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., wrote President Obama seeking an extension of ObamaCare’s open enrollment period, due to Web site failings. The move would delay the penalty for uninsured Americans who refuse to comply with the law’s mandatory coverage provision. In the letter, Shaheen states, “For over three years, we have been waiting for the creation of the health insurance exchanges, which now in their fourth week of existence, are riddled with problems.” The Granite State senator also sought clarification on whether individuals would be fined while the Web site is not working properly. Shaheen is not the first Democrat to suggest a delay of the March 31 enrollment deadline. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., proposed delaying the individual mandate budget negotiations earlier this month.

[WaPo’s Dana Milbank: “It may not be fair, but there’s no point in complaining. Democrats own health care — all of it.”]

BAIER TRACKS: A LITTLE BIRD TOLD ME…“Well, you know you’ve had a bad week as president when you spend Monday in the Rose Garden reciting 1-800 numbers to try to salvage the signup for your signature health law, the Saudis essentially won’t pick up the phone in protest of your policies in the Middle East, the IRS tells you they accidentally paid out $13.6 billion in earned income tax credits to people who were not supposed to receive them -- and it's only Wednesday. Now, add this one. You find out someone on your National Security staff has been tweeting harsh criticisms about your administration and its policies under a pseudonym.

White House National Security Staff Director Jofi Joseph was fired after he was caught tweeting criticism from the handle @natsecwonk. Joseph had been working on the administration’s Iran policy. (First reported by the Daily Beast's Josh Rogin)

The criticisms were often stinging, including, "I’m a fan of Obama, but his continuing reliance and dependence upon a vacuous cipher like Valerie Jarrett concerns me."

Who else inside the White House is not-so-openly criticizing administration policy?  Who knows, there may be an active account tweeting "@HHSwonk" in coming days, as congressional hearings about the ObamaCare rollout get underway.” – Bret Baier

CARNEY’S DODGY DOZEN ON OBAMACARE - At a briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney repeatedly dodged questions from reporters about the rollout of ObamaCare, referring them instead to Health and Human Services. Chief White House Correspondent Ed Henry joined others pressing Carney about the botched rollout; he asked whether anyone at the White House knew about tests showing the Web site wasn’t ready. Carney answered with a soon-to-be familiar refrain: “I would refer you to HHS for that.” In fact, Carney punted to HHS at least a dozen times during the briefing. The final question of the day was whether reporters would actually get any answers from HHS. Carney’s response? You guessed it. “I would refer you to HHS…”

[A new Web video from the House Republican Conference features actual chat excerpts from a potential customer and customer service agent at healthcare.gov to lampoon the mounting problems with the Web site. The agent “Dean” tells the customer “Don't lose your sanity over this website. Try it. If it doesn't work, walk away. Try it tomorrow,” and “don’t run with scissors.” The agent also admits to offering canned responses. ]

[Watch Fox: Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., discusses ObamaCare in the 11 a.m. ET hour]

NEARLY TWO THIRDS CALL BENGHAZI A COVER UP - Voters continue to have serious doubts about President Obama’s handling of the Sept. 11, 2012 raid by Islamist militants on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya. A new poll conducted by Democratic pollster Pat Caddell  and Republican pollster John McLaughlin for the hawkish political action group Secure America Now found 63 percent of respondents felt the Obama administration was covering up the facts on the Benghazi attacks. Only 29 percent felt the administration has been honest. Another 62 percent would like to see Congress create a special committee to learn the truth about the attacks that killed four Americans.

[House Intelligence Committee head, Rep. Mike Rogers, told Chief Intelligence Correspondent Catherine Herridge, investigators have laid out a timeline showing an advanced level of planning in the attacks. Rogers also confirmed suspicions that the Benghazi suspects sought by the FBI have ties to senior al Qaeda leadership.]

SHADOWS OF BEIRUT ATTACK ANNIVERSARY - On today’s 30th anniversary of the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, in which jihadists killed 299, including 241 American servicemen, Chief National Security Correspondent Jennifer Griffin talks with the Marine who led the unit during the attack and examines the role Iran’s new defense minister played in the deadliest day for the U.S. military since Vietnam.

PUFF, PUFF, PASS - A new Gallup survey shows a seismic shift in American attitudes about legalizing marijuana. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said that recreational use of cannabis should be legal. That’s a 10-point jump from when the question was asked last year and marks the first time a clear majority has shown support for such a measure. Support among Democrats (65 percent) and Republicans (35 percent) inched up, but among independents, support rose by a full 12 points. The only age group with a majority opposed was those 65 and over, with 53 percent who continue to think pot should be illegal.

[Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein considers for the Washington Post how the move toward legalized pot, already on the books in Colorado and Washington state, will play in Democratic primaries as candidates embrace the idea. “If it’s perceived to be successful, then expect Clinton’s competitors for 2016 to flirt with or perhaps even embrace the position.”]

WITH YOUR SECOND CUP OF COFFEE…Thomas Sowell considers race relations in America, and considers the untold stories of racial conflict in the nation. His call is for honesty in reporting and in discussions. “Refuting requires thought, which has largely been replaced by fashionable buzz words and catch phrases, when it comes to discussions of race. Thought is long overdue. So is honesty.”

Got a TIP from the RIGHT or LEFT? Email FoxNewsFirst@FOXNEWS.COM

POLL CHECK -Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval: Approve – 44.2 percent//Disapprove – 51.0 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 18.8 percent//Wrong Track – 74.3 percent

SHUTDOWN HURT VIRGINIA, BUT NOT GOP CANDIDATE - Most Virginia voters agree the government shutdown hurt their state, but according to a new Quinnipiac University poll, they aren’t holding it against Republican gubernatorial candidate, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Democrat Terry McAuliffe leads Cuccinelli 46-39 percent, basically unchanged since Oct. 10.  Nevertheless, voters don’t seem to like either candidate very much, both scoring low on favorability. In Virginia coal country, WaPo polling shows the candidates each received less than 50 percent of likely voter support. That may spell trouble for Cuccinelli, as Republicans traditionally have relied on rural areas like southwest Virginia for votes.

[Ryan backs Cuccinelli - Rep. Paul Ryan joined a conference call Tuesday to offer his support for Cuccinelli in Virginia’s gubernatorial race.]

OFF TO THE RACES -‘Cruzing’ into Iowa - Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is heading to Iowa, home to the nation’s first presidential nominating contest. Washington Examiner reports Cruz, fresh off his ObamaCare “de-funding” fight, will headline a Ronald Reagan comme Fox News First -- Obama seeks to soothe big insurers | Sebelius shields | Shutdown hurt Virginia, but not GOP candidate | Puff, puff, pass | Royal rumble in redmorative dinner Friday in Des Moines and will join conservative Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, for a Saturday fundraiser.

Acrid air in NYC - Democrat Bill de Blasio and Republican Joe Lhota got nasty during the first debate between New York’s mayoral candidates. The pair, argued about an ad being run by Lhota, claiming a city run by de Blasio will likely be crime-ridden. The Democrat charged Lhota with “race baiting” to which Lhota responded, “Don’t tell me I threw out the race card…Bill, you cannot stoop to that level.” The  NYT has more.

Grayson doubles down on KKK comparison - Daily Caller: “On Monday, [Rep. Alan Grayson’s, D-Fla.] re-election campaign sent out a fundraising email with a picture of a burning cross, which was used as a “t” to spell out “tea party.”  “Now What You Know What The ‘T’ Stands For,” the email read… In a long statement, Grayson defended his campaign’s mailer, arguing that the tea party has a history of racism.”

CONGRESS REALLY IS CRACKED - Crews will begin work next month on a two-year $60 million project to repair the U.S. Capitol’s dome. Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers announced the project to repair an estimated 1,000 small cracks in the dome. The project, the first restoration in 50 years, will require covering the dome with scaffolding for the duration of the work. The cast-iron and marble structure rises to 288 feet and was completed in 1866.

ROYAL RUMBLE IN RED - The 109th World Series starts tonight in Boston and it’s going to be a royal rumble in red. The championship pits two of baseball’s most storied franchises, the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox, in their fourth match-up since the World Series began in 1903. The last time the two played for the title was 2004, when Boston swept the series. The Cardinals took both of the first two meetings, beating the Sox in 1946 and 1967. The Cardinals are making their 19th trip to the Fall Classic, having won 11 since 1926. The Red Sox (previously known as the Americans) have made it to the series 13 times, winning seven times. St. Louis arrives by way of beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games to top the National League. The Red Sox earned their spot after avoiding a game seven with Detroit to clinch the American League title. St. Louis will be opening with 19-game winner Adam Wainwright. Boston will counter with its ace, Jon Lester. The series starts tonight at 8:07 p.m. ET, airing courtesy of Fox Sports. Read the excellent curtain lifter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell’s World Series preview explaining why this is truly a Fall Classic.

[Correspondent Molly Line is looking at how the Red Sox are rallying their fellow Bostonians to a good cause and pumping up civic pride amid the lingering heartache over the April terror attack at the Boston Marathon.]

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…“Iran is very strong militarily; on the threshold of going nuclear and very aggressive . . . clearly what they [the Saudis] see is the U.S. heading for a kind of a détente, an accommodation which will give to the regime in Iran legitimacy, permanence, and stability…For the Saudis — seeing the Iranians as their mortal enemy — it has to make them wonder what kind of friend is the United States and can they survive the American friendship.”--Charles Krauthammer  on “Special Report with Bret Baier

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here. To catch Chris live online daily at 11:30 a.m. ET, click here.