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Obama’s health care mea culpa

In an hour-long press conference Thursday, President Barack Obama says his administration “fumbled the rollout” of his signature health care law. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama entered the White House briefing room Thursday needing to accomplish two goals.

The first: outline an administrative fix to tamp down the uproar surrounding the millions of Americans in the individual market who have had their health insurance policies canceled because the plans did not meet the standards under the Affordable Care Act.

The second: revive his presidency amid a growing rebellion among congressional Democrats and dwindling approval of his job performance with the broader public. The Morning LineTo deal with the more immediate concern, the president announced that insurers would be allowed to offer plans that would have been canceled beginning next year. Mr. Obama said Americans who were told their policies would be discontinued would be able to “re-enroll in the same kind of plan.”

The longer-term rebuilding project for Mr. Obama will be working to restore the trust of the public, with one recent poll showing that a majority of the American people do not see him as honest and trustworthy. The president acknowledged Thursday that the troubled launch of his signature domestic achievement had damaged his standing with the public.

“We fumbled the rollout on this health care law,” the president said during his nearly hour-long appearance, displaying a level of contrition rarely seen. “Am I going to have to do some work to rebuild confidence around some of our initiatives? Yes.”

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz writes that even though the president is done running for elected office, the problems with the health care launch mean “he still has another campaign he must try to win.” He adds:

The campaign ahead is one to restore credibility to his presidency. Without it, his second-term agenda remains at risk.

The campaign he must wage now requires a different focus. It is about competency and delivering on promises, whether on health care or the economy. It requires a more positive and consistent approach, even in the face of opposition from Republicans determined to prove that Obamacare will never work.

In the New York Times, Michael Shear notes that the mishandling of the health care rollout has drawn parallels with former President George W. Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina. Shear reports:

Republicans readily made the Hurricane Katrina comparison. “The echoes to the fall of 2005 are really eerie,” said Peter D. Feaver, a top national security official in Mr. Bush’s second term. “Katrina, which is shorthand for bungled administration policy, matches to the rollout of the website.” Looking back, he said, “we can see that some of the things that we hoped were temporary or just blips turned out to be more systemic from a political sense. It’s a fair question of whether that’s happening to President Obama.”

The president’s top aides vehemently reject the comparison of Mr. Obama’s fifth year in office to the latter half of Mr. Bush’s second term. They say Americans lost confidence in Mr. Bush because of his administration’s ineptitude on Hurricane Katrina and its execution of the war in Iraq, while Mr. Obama is struggling to extend health care to millions of people who do not have it. Those are very different issues, they said.

Part the president’s rehabilitation effort will have to include Democratic lawmakers — many up for re-election — who have been put on the defensive over the health care woes.

“There is no doubt that our failure to roll out the ACA smoothly has put a burden on Democrats, whether they’re running or not, because they stood up and supported this effort through thick and thin,” the president said Thursday. “And I feel deeply responsible for making it harder for them rather than easier for them to continue to promote the core values that I think led them to support this thing in the first place.”

Senate Democrats said they were pleased with the president’s announcement, but suggested that a legislative fix might still be in order.

One of those lawmakers was Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, who has sponsored a proposal that would require insurance companies to continue offering coverage available through the end of the year to current policyholders. She called the president’s comments “a great first step,” but added that “we will probably need legislation to make it stick.”

“My bill is a permanent solution. We’re going to be working to see how that can be shaped to make it real, hold the promise and support the Affordable Care Act,” Landrieu said.

House Speaker John Boehner dismissed the president’s proposed fix Thursday. “True to form, it appears this is little more than a political response designed to shift blame rather than solve the problem,” The Ohio Republican said in a statement. “This problem cannot be papered over by another ream of Washington regulations. Americans losing their coverage because of the president’s health care law need clear, unambiguous legislation that guarantees the plan they have and like will still be allowed.”

The House will vote Friday on a measure put forward by Michigan GOP Rep. Fred Upton that would give insurers the ability to continue selling plans that were in effect at the beginning of 2013, even if they are considered substandard under the ACA. It would also allow new customers to enroll.

We’ll have full coverage of the debate on Friday’s NewsHour.

Gwen Ifill got reaction to the president’s remarks Thursday from Reps. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.

Watch the segment here or below:


  • Federal Reserve Chair nominee Janet Yellen faced little opposition from the Senate Banking Committee in her confirmation hearing Wednesday.

  • Glenn Thrush wrote about life inside President Obama’s cabinet for Politico Magazine, which launched Thursday.

  • Nathan Gonzalez at Stu Rothenberg’s Roll Call blog looks at the open Michigan Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat.

  • A Supreme Court case scheduled for December that would have tackled housing discrimination questions has been dismissed. The two parties in the case, the town of Mount Holly, N.J., and Mount Holly Gardens Citizens in Action settled out of court.

  • Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., criticized John Kerry’s performance as Secretary of State as “a human wrecking ball” during an event Thursday.

  • The president will nominate Vivek Hallegere Murthy, co-founder of Doctors for Obama in 2008, as the next surgeon general.

  • The Harrisburg Patriot-News issued a correction for criticizing a short speech a president made 150 years ago in a nearby town called Gettysburg. The newspaper had called the Gettysburg Address “silly.”

  • Fred Kaplan at Slate outlines how the Kennedy assassination likely wasn’t a conspiracy with multiple shooters.

  • Photographer Mark Peterson captured the white-hot rhetoric of the current political climate of Washington in this series of black-and-white photos.

NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

  • Gwen Ifill got the latest from Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Margaret Warner on the Obama administration’s efforts to convince Congress not to impose fresh sanctions on Iran while the international community negotiates a deal on the country’s nuclear program.

  • Jeffrey Brown sat down with former NewsHour anchor Robert MacNeil about his new novel, “Portrait of Julia.”

  • Browse the numbers on Affordable Care Act enrollments in every state with this handy map.

  • 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.


Desk Assistant Aileen Graef contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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