TOPICS > Politics

Obama Looks to Bipartisan Summit to Revive Health Reform

February 8, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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From left to right, the national political scene was buzzing on Monday. Developments included President Obama's latest appeal for bipartisanship and Sarah Palin's latest turn on the national stage. Gwen Ifill talks to the Hotline's Amy Walter for insight.
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GWEN IFILL: From left to right, the national political scene was in ferment today. That followed President Obama’s latest appeal for bipartisanship and Sarah Palin’s latest turn on the national stage.

It didn’t take much for the president to draw a link between the winter storm that paralyzed the nation’s capital this weekend and the challenges facing his party.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We may be moving forward against the prevailing winds, sometimes maybe against a blizzard. But we’re going to live up to our responsibility to lead.

GWEN IFILL: The political blizzard, the president told loyal Democrats meeting at a Washington hotel on Saturday, was being engineered by Republicans. The solution, he suggested the very next day, was to invite GOP leaders to the White House later this month to jump-start a bipartisan health care debate.

He said the televised meeting, patterned in part after a Republican session he attended in Baltimore, would solicit ideas. GOP leaders said they would accept the president’s invitation, but any debate, they suggested, must begin from scratch.

The best way to start on real bipartisan reform would be to scrap those bills, House Republican Leader John Boehner said in a statement.

BARACK OBAMA: Thank you, DNC.

GWEN IFILL: It was a big weekend for political positioning. As the president was rallying his troops and challenging Republicans in Washington, a collection of conservative activists were stirring the political pot in Nashville.

MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, Sarah Palin.

GWEN IFILL: The star of the inaugural National Tea Party Convention was 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who said Democrats have failed to keep promises.

SARAH PALIN, former Alaska governor: How’s that hopey, changey stuff working out for you?

GWEN IFILL: Palin also told FOX News she has not ruled out running for president in 2012.

SARAH PALIN: I think that it would be absurd to not consider what it is that I can potentially do to help our country. I don’t know if it’s going to be ever seeking a title, though. It may be just doing a darn good job.

GWEN IFILL: Six hundred delegates paid hundreds of dollars each to attend the Tea Party meeting. The goal, organizers said, is to raise money and help elect conservatives to Congress in 2010 and to the White House in 2012.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, The Washington Post: The Tea Party is best defined as a grassroots uprising, a grassroots movement. It is not a political party. It is not the Green Party. It is not the Libertarian Party. It is far younger and far less well-organized than either of those. This is just a very loosely affiliated group of people coming together around the idea that the government has intruded too far into their lives.

GWEN IFILL: Unhappy about taxes, deficit spending, and big government, Tea Party organizers have helped candidates in Massachusetts, Florida, Nevada, and other states.

But, for now, Palin is the closest thing the movement has to being a national political standard-bearer.

O.P. DITCH: I think she speaks like we do. She thinks like we do. She is a down-to-earth person.

GWEN IFILL: The movement’s leaders made clear they are taking aim at both Republicans and Democrats.

SARAH PALIN: Both major parties, the D’s and the R’s, have both kind of lost their way in some respects. When the GOP strays from the planks in the platform, a people’s movement like the Tea Party movement is invited in to kind of hold these politicians accountable again and remind them of their constitutional limits.

GWEN IFILL: The president’s olive branch strategy begins tomorrow, when lawmakers from both parties arrive at the White House for a previously scheduled meeting on the economy.

Here to help us sort through this weekend’s political news is Amy Walter, editor in chief of The Hotline, National Journal’s daily briefing on politics.

Let’s take these two things separately, Amy, starting with the president’s announcement for — about this televised health care, what, negotiation? What is this called?

AMY WALTER, The Hotline: I think it is a summit.

GWEN IFILL: A summit.

AMY WALTER: Very fond of the word summit at the White House these days. And, you know, let’s see what this turns out to be.

Obviously, you see already Republicans saying, we’re not just going to start midway. We have got to start from scratch, knowing full well that you cannot start from scratch and expect to get anything done before the end of the legislative session.

The president, too, in an interesting position here , and the White House saying now for — for a few weeks that they want to make the midterm election a choice election between what Democrats are proposing and what Republicans are proposing, as opposed to a referendum on the Democratic Party.

GWEN IFILL: So, are these meetings, whether it be tomorrow’s meeting about the economy, which is one of their regular bipartisan meetings at the White House, or this big thing on February 25, I guess, are they really about fixing the problem, or are they about leaving the impression that they are at least talking to one another?

AMY WALTER: I think it is the latter. I think political posturing, as you put in your piece, is probably the better way to look at this — Democrats hoping that voters are going to look at the ballot in 2010 and see not a Democratic Party that failed to deliver, but Republicans who stood in their way.

That is a very tough argument to make when you control everything in Washington, and by big margins.

GWEN IFILL: But, on the health care, at least, there is some middle ground, where they could conceivably get something done, isn’t there?

AMY WALTER: Theoretically, but how much trouble have Democrats had with their own party? I mean, that has been the big part of it, too, was, so much of the negotiations were not simply with Republicans, but with Democrats.

I think what is interesting that President Obama is doing, too, is sort of setting up Congress as the bad guy here, which is not necessarily good for his party in 2010. Now, for the president to be able to say, well, let’s rise above this, let’s get away from the partisanship and the sniping, well, we know that, in order to get legislation passed, it’s going to still be not very pretty, when all is said and done.

And Congress already suffering from very low approval ratings, it could make things even worse for that party and his own party going into 2010.

GWEN IFILL: Well, his own party. Isn’t he also speaking to his own party, saying, I haven’t completely abandoned health care?

AMY WALTER: Well, that’s right. I — that — he is saying, don’t worry. I’m not going to give up on this.

Democrats in 2010 terrified that they are going to have to run for reelection without any tangible evidence of major legislation passing in the middle of a recession. They spent all this time and energy on a health care bill that went nowhere. They want to see something happen.

Now, in the end, do we see that the president reaches out? Republicans say, we want all these changes. The president says, that’s not acceptable. They say, well, that’s not acceptable to us. Ultimately, something passes that’s just a very minor fix — Democrats able to at least say, eh, we passed something. It wasn’t a total loss.

But the idea of a sweeping change in health care seems very unlikely.

GWEN IFILL: OK, let’s talk to something else and figure out whether it is sweeping as well, which is the political flip side here, the Tea Party Convention…

AMY WALTER: Right.

GWEN IFILL: … in Nashville this weekend.

Was this convention the beginning of making the Tea Party movement an actual, real, cohesive movement?

AMY WALTER: Well, I think there is a very important distinction to be made between a mood and a movement.

There is a mood out there that goes beyond this Tea Party Convention that has sort of permeated both parties and independents as well, which is frustration with the status quo, a frustration with business as usual.

And what the Tea Party movement had done is been able to sort of capture that, bring people together, in the hopes of channeling it to electing their own candidates or deposing current incumbents.

We haven’t seen quite yet if they are able to do that. They said they are going to put a PAC together, raise something like $10 million to target candidates. We know that activists say that they are getting involved in certain races.

But when you look fundamentally at the people who are running as these so-called Tea Party candidates you pointed to, Scott Brown in Massachusetts, or, in Florida, Marco Rubio running against Charlie Crist, the governor for the Republican nomination for Senate, those are all establishment candidates.

Scott Brown was in the legislature for years. Marco Rubio was at one time the speaker of the House. So, these are not — these are not people who have come somehow out of the ether.

GWEN IFILL: Well…

AMY WALTER: These are people who are establishment candidates who are picking up on the mood and reworking their identity to be an outsider.

GWEN IFILL: Well, and Sarah Palin was not only the governor of a big state, as she likes to point out, but she was also the party’s vice presidential nominee, which doesn’t make her quite an outsider.

AMY WALTER: Right.

GWEN IFILL: But does she get to be the leader of the movement anyway?

AMY WALTER: Right. And this is what is happening in 2010. What we are seeing are candidates who are recognizing the mood and those candidates who aren’t.

So, if you recognize the mood early, and grab that change mantle, that outsider mantle, even if you were an insider, you are able to make yourself look like an outsider. Governor Rick Perry in Texas is the perfect example of this. He has been the longest serving governor in Texas history.

He is running as the outsider in his reelection race, because his opponent in the primary is a sitting United States senator, and he is making Washington the bad guy, as opposed to, you know…

GWEN IFILL: Well, even the president is making Washington the bad guy…

AMY WALTER: That’s right. It’s pretty easy these days.

GWEN IFILL: … which is pretty easy to do.

But does this mean that Sarah Palin — does it matter, even, whether Sarah Palin is running for president or not, or is it just the platform everybody wants to climb on to right now?

AMY WALTER: Well, for her sake, it does matter that she leaves that impression out there that she is looking to run for president.

GWEN IFILL: Because?

AMY WALTER: Because, no matter what she wants to do next, whether she runs or not, she has a pretty good gig going. I mean, she is still bringing in lots of attention to herself. She has a — you know, her own analysis now, I guess, slot on FOX News.

She is able to bring in a lot in speaking fees. She’s not going to be able to do that if she is seen as somebody who is not particularly interested in running again. People want to see what she does and want to see what she says.

Now, whether or not she is able to translate this support she’s getting into tangible support when it comes to 2012, i.e., is she going to be able to organize caucuses, is she going to be able to raise money, is she going to be able to do that sort of grassroots stuff that you need to do, that’s a whole other question.

GWEN IFILL: Amy Walter, as always, you — you clear things up.

AMY WALTER: Well, thank you.

GWEN IFILL: Thank you very much.