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Obama apologizes for health care troubles, pledges to work out ‘kinks’


President Obama spoke Wednesday in Dallas, Texas about the Affordable Care Act. Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama offered an apology Thursday to Americans who have been notified that they are losing their health insurance plans despite his repeated promises that if they liked their policies they would be able to keep them.

“I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me,” the president said in an interview with Chuck Todd of NBC News. “We’ve got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them and we are going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this.” The Morning Line

In recent weeks millions of Americans who purchase coverage on their own have been told by their insurers that their plans are being dropped because the policies do not meet the new minimum standards required under the Affordable Care Act.

Mr. Obama said Thursday that he regretted any confusion caused by the rollout. “We weren’t as clear as we needed to be in terms of the changes that were taking place. And I want to do everything we can to make sure that people are finding themselves in a good position, a better position than before this law happened,” he said.

The president has come under increasing pressure from lawmakers on Capitol Hill to address the problems with the law, including from members of his own party. Earlier this week he got an earful from Senate Democrats who are concerned that the troublesome launch of the health care law could become a significant liability in next year’s midterm elections.

On Thursday, a bipartisan pair of senators — Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois — introduced a bill to delay the implementation of the individual mandate under the ACA to January 2015, and eliminate the $95 penalty that would take effect in 2014 under the law.

Speaker John Boehner, meanwhile, called on the president to support a proposal to be voted on next week in the House dubbed the “Keep Your Health Plan Act” that would allow Americans to hold onto policies that were available on the individual market at the beginning of this year.

“An apology is certainly in order, but what Americans want to hear is that the president is going to keep his promise,” Boehner said in a statement. “If the president is sincerely sorry that he misled the American people, the very least he can do is support this bipartisan effort. Otherwise, this apology doesn’t amount to anything.”

When asked Thursday if he supported a potential delay, the president responded that he was confident the problems with the website would be fixed soon and people would have plenty of time to enroll through the marketplace.

“Keep in mind that the open enrollment period, the period during which you can buy health insurance is available all the way until March 31 and we’re only five weeks into it, so we’ve got a whole bunch of time not only to get the website fixed, to work out all the kinks, to make sure that everybody has the information they need,” he said.

“And what we’ll do is continue to assess if there are roadblocks for people, we’re going to clear out those roadblocks.”

The president also defended Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who was grilled by members of both parties at a Senate hearing this week, and who has been the target of resignation calls from some GOP lawmakers.

“Kathleen Sebelius doesn’t write code. She wasn’t our I.T. person,” Mr. Obama said. “Ultimately the buck stops with me. I’m the president. This is my team. If it’s not working, it’s my job to get it fixed.”

With his allies on Capitol Hill increasingly uneasy over the rocky rollout, the president and his team have only a few weeks to get the exchange running smoothly. If the site is not fixed as White House officials promise by the end of the month, then more and more Democrats will likely join Republicans in demanding a delay.

We’ve been taking a look at the Affordable Care Act in depth on the NewsHour. Thursday night, Producer Mary Jo Brooks examined the health care law’s impact on the residents of one rural county in Colorado. Watch:

The Morning Line will take a break from publishing for Veterans Day, but will return Tuesday.

Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

THE ENDA THE ROAD

A bipartisan group of senators approved a gay rights bill Thursday that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but despite the 64-32 vote, the legislation’s prospects in the Republican-controlled House appear dim.

“Let the bells of freedom ring,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., declared at a Thursday afternoon news conference. “We have fought to capture that vision of equality and liberty and opportunity and fairness embedded in our founding documents and in our founding vision. We’ve taken a huge stride today in that direction,” he added.

Those voting in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act included 54 members of the Democratic caucus and 10 Republicans. Among them, Susan Collins of Maine, a lead sponsor of the legislation.

“It is past time that we close this gap for our LGBT employees,” Collins said on the Senate floor Thursday. “All Americans deserve a fair opportunity to pursue the American dream.”

Boehner has made clear the measure will not advance in his chamber. The Ohio Republican contends the legislation is unnecessary and would subject businesses to frivolous lawsuits.

Democrats warned Thursday that there would be political consequences for House Republicans blocking action on the legislation.

“If the House of Representatives does insist on going down this road, they’ll be sending their party straight to oblivion,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

The president also urged Republican leaders in the House to bring the bill up for a vote. “One party in one house of Congress should not stand in the way of millions of Americans who want to go to work each day and simply be judged by the job they do. Now is the time to end this kind of discrimination in the workplace, not enable it.”

The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe broke down GOP “yes” votes in the Senate:

All of these senators have different motivations: Kirk and Collins are longtime champion of the cause; Ayotte and Heller come from states that have similar state laws on the books; Flake had concerns about ENDA but enjoyed some political cover from McCain; Hatch and Murkowski supported the bill when it was cleared by a committee in July; Portman is a recent proponent of same-sex marriage because he disclosed that his son is gay; and Toomey faces a tough reelection fight in blue Pennsylvania in 2016.

Kwame Holman reported on the bill’s passage in our news summary Thursday. Watch here or below:

The NewsHour on Tuesday night highlighted why Republicans are so divided on this issue with a debate between the executive director of the pro-gay rights group Log Cabin Republicans and a representative of the socially conservative Family Research Council. That discussion is here.

LINE ITEMS

  • A cadre of Republican members of Congress led by Florida Rep. Ted Yoho say they will approach House Speaker John Boehner about impeaching Attorney General Eric Holder.

  • Mr. Obama told NBC News’ Chuck Todd that there was “no way” he would have dropped Biden from the ticket in his 2012 campaign. A new book on the campaign, “Double Down,” the sequel to 2010’s successful “Game Change,” said the Obama campaign considered dumping the second in command for Hillary Clinton.

  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry stoked speculation he could be looking at another presidential bid in 2016 with a visit to Iowa on Thursday.

  • Rep. Howard Coble, 82, will retire instead of seeking re-election next fall. The 15-term North Carolina Republican announced his plans Thursday at a press conference. Roll Call keeps a running tally of lawmakers who are leaving.

  • The White House issued a report outlining the costs of the 16-day partial government shutdown — $2 billion in lost productivity.

  • NPR and the Center for Responsive Politics followed the money from anonymous political donors and discovered how many stay secret.

  • National Journal’s Fawn Johnson reports: “The White House will have a new college rating system available for the school year starting in 2015 that will deliberately run counter to the well-known ranking system produced by U.S. News and World Report, a top White House aide said Thursday.”

  • Amy Walter explains what she took away from Virginia exit polls in her column for the Cook Political Report.

  • Fifty percent of Texans told left-leaning Public Policy Polling they think GOP Sen. Ted Cruz has been bad for the state’s image. But he hasn’t lost his 47 percent popularity rating there, despite sinking national approval figures.

  • Bloomberg News’ Michael Tackett dubs Cruz the new model for an anti-party, “unilateral” politician.

  • Roll Call’s Emily Cahn looks at the split between business groups and the tea party in the aftermath of the Alabama election.

  • The Washington Post’s Mateo Gold finds the ‘Ready for Hillary’ campaign already in action, even without a candidate (yet) on board.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks. The Hill’s Elise Viebeck reports that all but three Republican senators who are up for reelection in 2014 are backing the bill.

  • Next up for Senate Democrats: a push to increase the minimum wage.

  • Politico’s Maggie Haberman notices that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is not a thin man.

  • Blue Rider Press announced Friday that Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, running for governor as a Democrat, is writing a memoir.

  • The Supreme Court Historical Society revisited the landmark 1969 free speech decision that protected John and Mary Beth Tinker’s right to wear armbands in protest of the Vietnam War to school. The Tinkers spoke, along with Justice Samuel Alito, at the courthouse Thursday.

  • Standout reporter Robert Costa is leaving the National Review to join the Washington Post on their politics team.

  • Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., asked supporters of his “Country First” political action committee in an email to weigh in on the issues facing the nation. “America is ready for some straight talk,” he wrote in an email. “It’s time for Congress to get back to work at putting America on the right track again.” He asks people to take a survey and to donate, adding that, “the strongest cure for dysfunction in Washington is an informed citizenry that actively participates in the political process.”

  • The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza takes a look at Twitter’s effect on politics and political journalism in 140 characters and more.

  • Biden’d! Turns out the incorrigible vice president called a second wrong number Tuesday night looking to congratulate Boston Mayor-Elect Marty Walsh. Huffington Post has the audio.

  • Buzzfeed does an exit interview with fictional Michael Bloomberg Twitter alter ego El Bloombito.

NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

  • Have you gambled using bitcoin? Let us know!

  • Judy Woodruff was joined by the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Thomas Frieden, who explained the federal government’s decision to ban artificial trans-fats from the American diet.

  • Hari Sreenivasan took a look at Twitter’s initial public offering Thursday with financier Bill Hambrecht and Alistair Barr of USA Today.

  • Gwen Ifill got the latest on the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program with Margaret Warner and Michael Gordon of the New York Times.

  • NewsHour Political Editor Christina Bellantoni is attending the Young Leaders Conference in Zurich hosted by the American Swiss Foundation and will return Nov. 19. Also attending from the political world are Anna Edney of Bloomberg News, Politico’s Manu Raju and Jamie Radtke, who founded a tea party group in Virginia.

  • And in case you missed it above, the Morning Line will take a one-day hiatus on Monday for Veterans Day.

TOP TWEETS

Christina Bellantoni and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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