President Obama’s Press Conference & ABC Town Hall Special on Health Care Reform


Barack Obama press briefing

Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times President Obama responded to questions about the economy, health care, and protests in Iran on Tuesday.


In Focus: Stats

  • Obama pushes the limits of media exposure: The Obama administration is responding to unfavorable trends in public opinion polls by intensifying its message discipline and seizing as many opportunities for publicity as the schedule allows. President Barack Obama on Wednesday taped a series of exclusive interviews for different ABC News platforms, all highlighting health care reform — a day after a major news conference also addressed health care. Although 72 percent in a recent CBS News/New York Times poll said they supported health care reform, three different polls have shown support waning for Obama’s fiscal policies. The administration is not taking any chances on losing the health care fight.
    Obama’s ABC News tour — derided by critics such as the Cato Institute as an “infomercial” — follows a two-day CBS News project highlighting his family on Father’s Day, with a follow-up interview about his presidency…. – Washington Examiner, 6-24-09
  • Live Blogging the Obama News Conference – NYT, 6-23-09
  • President Barack Obama’s poll numbers start to wilt: The good news for Obama is that his approval ratings — 57 percent in a Gallup tracking poll over the weekend — remain comfortably high by historical standards for presidents. Obama’s approval rating has dipped below 60 percent on other occasions, according to Gallup, but though those slumps lasted only a day, this one appears to be more persistent…. – Politico, 6-22-09


The Headlines…

  • Obama steps up push for healthcare reform this year: President Barack Obama stepped up pressure on Congress on Wednesday to pass healthcare reform this year, staging a daylong media blitz that ended with a televised town hall-style meeting at the White House to rally public support… “This is one of those moments where the stars are aligned. We’ve got insurers who are interested and doctors who are interested, nurses, patients,” Obama told an ABC TV audience gathered in the chandelier-lit East Room of the White House. “It’s not going to be a completely smooth ride,” he said during the question-and-answer session. “But if we keep our eye on the prize … then I’m absolutely convinced that we can get it done this time.””Obama says public option, he means government-run health care,” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said in a statement. “Without question, the government takeover of healthcare will diminish individual freedom and quality in our health care system.” Reuters, 6-24-09
  • Obama Sees Health-Care Overhaul as ‘Uniquely American’ Blend: President Barack Obama defended government involvement in the U.S. health-care system and said an overhaul should meld the best from the public and private sectors. Obama answered questions at a town hall-style event at the White House arranged by ABC News. The network said the audience of 164 people included supporters of the president’s plan as well as skeptics. It was recorded for broadcast last night…. “We need to come up with something that is uniquely American,” Obama said during last night’s event. “If we are smart we should be able to design a system in which people still have choices” and receive “necessary treatment” without waste…. – Bloomberg, 6-24-09
  • Obama leaves door open to tax on health benefits: President Barack Obama left the door open to a new tax on health care benefits Wednesday, and officials said top lawmakers and the White House were seeking $150 billion in concessions from the nation’s hospitals as they sought support for legislation struggling to emerge in Congress. “I don’t want to prejudge what they’re doing,” the president said, referring to proposals in the Senate to tax workers who get expensive insurance policies. Obama, who campaigned against the tax when he ran for president, drew a quick rebuff from organized labor…. If “it’s my family member, if it’s my wife, if it’s my children, if it’s my grandmother, I always want them to get the very best care,” Obama said…. – AP, 6-24-09
  • House passes $44B Homeland Security spending bill: The House passed a $44 billion spending bill Wednesday that awards the Homeland Security Department a 7 percent budget increase, with money for more border patrol agents and for anti-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia…. – AP, 6-24-09
  • Obama signs $106 billion bill for Iraq, Afghan wars: President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed into law a $106 billion measure to fulfill his plans to wind down the war in Iraq and ramp up operations in Afghanistan where fighting against militants is intensifying…. – Reuters, 6-24-09
  • Obama extends sanctions on NKorea: US President Barack Obama on Wednesday extended a set of economic sanctions on North Korea for another year as tension soars with the communist state over its nuclear and missile programs. Obama, using emergency powers, prolonged by one year restrictions on property dealings with North Korea that had been due to expire on Friday…. AFP, 6-24-09
  • Rudy Giuliani calls Albany ‘bizarre,’ as GOP presses him to run for governor: Likening Albany to “a stand-off at the O.K. Corral,” Rudy Giuliani galloped into town Wednesday with a plan to impose order – and maybe even boost his potential gubernatorial bid. The former mayor proposed a constitutional convention to institute term limits on lawmakers, toughen campaign finance laws and push through a host of other reforms in gridlocked Albany, a place he termed “bizarre.”
    “This was always a broken state government,” Giuliani told reporters in a conference call. “Now it has collapsed, it has virtually collapsed.” “I am hoping that, in essence, that the trauma of what is being displayed now in Albany will lead to a populist base of support \[for a convention\],” he added. “This is done really out of frustration as a New Yorker,” he insisted. State Republicans have been pressuring Giuliani for months to run for governor next year, and his proposals Wednesday could certainly help to position him as a reformist eager to fix what ails the state’s capitol…. – NY Daily News, 6-24-09
  • President Obama’s health-care reforms shaky with Democrats, GOP: Senate Democrats say President Obama doesn’t have the votes yet to pass health-care reform. “I don’t know that [Obama] has the votes right now. I think there’s a lot of concern in the Democratic caucus,” Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” show. Like New York, California is concerned Obama will cover costs in part by reducing Medicaid and Medicare payments that help support hospitals and the public health system. “If you change the Medicaid rate, for example, it has an impact on California between $1billion and $5 billion a year,” Feinstein said. “Now, how could I support that?”… – NY Daily News, 6-24-09
  • Obama: Doctor-choice is vital to health care plan: President Barack Obama says Americans will still be able to choose their doctors under the health care changes he is seeking. The president met Wednesday at the White House with five governors to discuss their views on revamping the nation’s health care system…. – AP, 6-24-09
  • Wandering SC governor admits straying: After going AWOL for seven days, Gov. Mark Sanford admitted Wednesday that he had secretly flown to Argentina to visit a woman with whom he was having an affair. Wiping away tears, he apologized to his wife and four sons and said he will resign as head of the Republican Governors Association. “I’ve been unfaithful to my wife,” he said in a news conference in which the 49-year-old governor ruminated aloud on God’s law, moral absolutes and following one’s heart. He said he spent the last five days “crying in Argentina.”… AP, 6-24-09
  • Weird politics: Hold on, did he just say that? – AP, 6-24-09
  • Obama urges fast work on climate-change bill: President Barack Obama on Tuesday pressed Congress to quickly pass broad energy and climate change legislation as lawmakers reached a compromise that could improve the odds of passage later this week. During his fourth news conference since taking office, the president described the climate change measure as “extraordinarily important for our country. … I urge members of the House to come together and pass it.”… – Houston Chronicle, 6-23-09
  • Iran, healthcare reform highlight Obama press conference: US President Barack Obama was Tuesday braced for questions on Iran’s deepening political showdown, North Korea’s belligerence and his sweeping domestic agenda at a White House news conference…. With pundits predicting Obama’s political honeymoon will soon cede to a tough slog to enact key reforms like healthcare and financial regulation, Obama will be looking for a swift jolt of political momentum. He had been due to step up to the podium in the White House Rose Garden at 12:30 (16:30 GMT) but amid sultry midsummer heat in Washington, aides switched the event to the presidential mansion’s cramped press briefing room…. – AFP, 6-23-09
  • Huckabee endorses Rubio for Fla. Senate seat: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is endorsing Marco Rubio for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat. He called Rubio an “energetic, articulate, principled conservative.” He also said the 38-year-old former Florida House Speaker has an unlimited future. Huckabee said that could work in Rubio’s favor, saying, “The last thing most people in any state want is someone who is going to be a member of the club.” – AP, 6-23-09
  • Court upholds a voting rights measure by sidestepping issue: The Supreme Court on Monday left intact one of the signature legacies of the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The court, in an 8-1 decision, ducked the central question in a case that was the most closely watched of the term. Most election law specialists had expected the court to rule on whether a core provision of the law was constitutional, and many of them were betting the answer would be no…. – NYT, 6-22-09
  • Democrats getting bolder on gov’t insurance plan: Democrats are becoming bolder about their idea that middle-class familes get the option of joining a government insurance plan in any overhaul of the health care system. Their fervor carries a risk. Liberals, citing polls that show support for a public plan, say they are increasingly frustrated with negotiations to make the idea more palatable to Republicans. Moderates, however, warn that abandoning the talks could jeopardize efforts to draft a bill that can pass a closely divided Senate…. – AP, 6-22-09
  • Health-Care Reform Will Test Obama’s Resolve: As the legislative debate over health care intensifies on Capitol Hill, there is growing clamor for President Obama to step in. White House officials believe it’s wiser to wait, but at some point the president will have to make clear what he’ll accept and what he won’t. For Obama, a handful of big decisions awaits. They include cost and coverage, revenue and savings, a public option or not, and the cost vs. the desirability of bipartisan agreement. Those decisions, all inextricably linked, probably will determine whether he succeeds where other presidents have failed… – WaPo, 6-21-09
  • Obama may need firmer hand on health care debate: President Barack Obama is seeing the downside of his light touch on revamping the nation’s health care system. Congressional Democrats are off to a halting start, blindsided by a high cost estimate and divided over how to proceed. The confusion has emboldened Republican critics of the administration’s approach to its top domestic priority. While too early to rule out eventual success, it seems Obama will have to be more forceful and hands-on…. – AP, 6-21-09


Political Quotes

  • The President & Health Care Reform – Prime Time TV: White House, 6-24-09
  • Obama takes health care debate to the airwaves: President Barack Obama on Wednesday intensified his campaign to overhaul the nation’s health care system, as polls show Americans wanting but fearing change and as a divided Congress grapples over what to do. In an unusual exclusive arrangement with ABC News that drew the ire of many Republicans, Obama planned to tape a health care town hall meeting at the White House that the network would air at 10 p.m. EDT. Appearing earlier Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Obama said he “absolutely” expects Congress to pass comprehensive health care legislation by year’s end…. “There’s no perfect unanimity across the table in terms of every single aspect of reform,” the president said in remarks after their meeting. “I think everybody here wants to make sure that governors have flexibility, that they have input into how legislation is being shaped on the Hill.” – Miami Herald, 6-24-09
  • First Lady Talks About Health Care: “The country has moved to another point in time,” Mrs. Obama said in an interview broadcast on “Good Morning America,” the ABC morning news program. “More and more people are ready for this kind of reform.” “There are going to be tough choices that have to be made and no system is going to be perfect,” Mrs. Obama said. “Which is why my side of the equation, the wellness side, is one of the true keys.” “What we need to do in this country isn’t transformational, it’s really walking 30 minutes a day, maybe five days a week, and starting with your kids on a different sets of habits,” Mrs. Obama said. “Those things will eliminate obesity and cut down on costs. I mean we’re spending about $120 billion additional dollars a year in our health care system as a result of these sort of chronic illnesses that you see that are connected to obesity.” – NYT, 6-24-09
  • REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AFTER MEETING WITH GOVERNORS GRANHOLM, DOUGLAS, DOYLE, ROUNDS AND GREGOIRE TO DISCUSS HEALTH CARE Roosevelt Room: THE PRESIDENT: …And so they’ve reported back to me. There’s no perfect unanimity across the table in terms of every single aspect of reform. I think everybody here wants to make sure that governors have flexibility, that they have input into how legislation is being shaped on the Hill. But they have done my administration and I think the American people a terrific service in bringing some of these individual stories to us. And we’re committed to working with them in the weeks and months to come to make sure that when we get health reform done, it is in partnership with the states where the rubber so often hits the road.
    And one of the advantages they have, as Joe Biden put it, they’ve planted a mole inside our administration. (Laughter.) Kathleen Sebelius, very recently a governor, knows exactly what all of them are struggling with, and she and Nancy-Ann are going to be interacting with them on a regular basis as we move this agenda forward.
    So I want to thank them publicly. And I look forward to working with them to get this done for the American people and for the people of their respective states in the weeks to come. Thank you.

    Q Is there any give in your deadline, Mr. President? THE PRESIDENT: We need to get it done.
    Q This year? THE PRESIDENT: We need to get it done this year…. – White House, 6-24-09

  • The President’s Opening Remarks on Iran: First, I’d like to say a few words about the situation in Iran. The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.
    I’ve made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not interfering with Iran’s affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and the dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore the violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.
    The Iranian people are trying to have a debate about their future. Some in Iran — some in the Iranian government, in particular, are trying to avoid that debate by accusing the United States and others in the West of instigating protests over the election. These accusations are patently false. They’re an obvious attempt to distract people from what is truly taking place within Iran’s borders. This tired strategy of using old tensions to scapegoat other countries won’t work anymore in Iran. This is not about the United States or the West; this is about the people of Iran, and the future that they — and only they — will choose…. – White House, 6-23-09
  • Obama condemns violence against Iran protesters: Dramatically hardening the U.S. reaction to Iran’s disputed elections and bloody aftermath, President Barack Obama condemned the violence against protesters Tuesday and lent his strongest support yet to their accusations the hardline victory was a fraud….
    He suggested Iran’s leaders will face consequences if they continue “the threats, the beatings and imprisonments” against protesters… “We don’t know yet how this thing is going to play out,” the president said. “It is not too late for the Iranian government to recognize that there is a peaceful path that will lead to stability and legitimacy and prosperity for the Iranian people. We hope they take it.” “No iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to peaceful protests of justice,” he said during a nearly hourlong White House news conference dominated by the unrest in Iran. “Those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.”…. – AP, 6-23-09
  • PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE PRESIDENT James S. Brady Press Briefing Room: Right now, Congress is debating various health care reform proposals. This is obviously a complicated issue, but I am very optimistic about the progress that they’re making.
    Like energy, this is legislation that must and will be paid for. It will not add to our deficits over the next decade. We will find the money through savings and efficiencies within the health care system — some of which we’ve already announced.
    We will also ensure that the reform we pass brings down the crushing cost of health care. We simply can’t have a system where we throw good money after bad habits. We need to control the skyrocketing costs that are driving families, businesses, and our government into greater and greater debt.
    There’s no doubt that we must preserve what’s best about our health care system, and that means allowing Americans who like their doctors and their health care plans to keep them. But unless we fix what’s broken in our current system, everyone’s health care will be in jeopardy. Unless we act, premiums will climb higher, benefits will erode further, and the rolls of the uninsured will swell to include millions more Americans. Unless we act, one out of every five dollars that we earn will be spent on health care within a decade. And the amount our government spends on Medicare and Medicaid will eventually grow larger than what our government spends on everything else today.
    When it comes to health care, the status quo is unsustainable and unacceptable. So reform is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. And I hope that Congress will continue to make significant progress on this issue in the weeks ahead…. – White House, 6-23-09
  • Obama takes on insurers over gov’t plan: President Barack Obama on Tuesday squared off with the insurance lobby over industry charges that a government health plan he backs would dismantle the employer coverage Americans have relied on for a half-century and overtake the system….
    “If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care … then why is it that the government, which they say can’t run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business?” Obama said in response to a question at a White House news conference. “That’s not logical,” he scoffed, responding to an industry warning that government competition would destabilize the employer system that now covers more than 160 million people. – AP, 6-23-09
  • Analysis: Obama rebukes insurance critics, GOP: Even for a Democratic president, Barack Obama’s challenge to health insurance companies and free market principles Tuesday was unusually pointed. “We have not drawn lines in the sand,” Obama said at a White House news conference…. “The public plan, I think, is an important tool to discipline insurance companies,” he said. “Too often, insurance companies have been spending more time thinking about how to take premiums and then avoid providing people coverage than they have been thinking about ‘How can we make sure that insurance is there, health care is there, when families need it?'” With those caveats, he said, private insurers “should be able to compete.” If the government-run program “is able to reduce administrative costs significantly, then you know what, I’d like the insurance companies to take note and say, ‘Hey, if the public plan can do that, why can’t we?'”
    “Why would it drive private insurance out of business?” he said of the proposed public option. If private insurers “tell us that they’re offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can’t run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That’s not logical.”
    He went so far as to suggest that Americans don’t know their own minds when they praise their insurance providers. Some polls show that up to 80 percent of people “are satisfied with the health insurance that they currently have,” Obama said. “The only problem is that premiums have been doubling every nine years, going up three times faster than wages.”
    “Right now,” Obama said at the news conference, “I will say that our position is that a public plan makes sense.” – AP, 6-23-09
  • REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT THE SIGNING OF THE FAMILY SMOKING PREVENTION AND TOBACCO CONTROL ACT Rose Garden: I know — I was one of these teenagers, and so I know how difficult it can be to break this habit when it’s been with you for a long time. And I also know that kids today don’t just start smoking for no reason. They’re aggressively targeted as customers by the tobacco industry. They’re exposed to a constant and insidious barrage of advertising where they live, where they learn, and where they play. Most insidiously, they are offered products with flavorings that mask the taste of tobacco and make it even more tempting.
    We’ve known about this for decades, but despite the best efforts and good progress made by so many leaders and advocates with us today, the tobacco industry and its special interest lobbying have generally won the day up on the Hill. When Henry Waxman first brought tobacco CEOs before Congress in 1994, they famously denied that tobacco was deadly, nicotine was addictive, or that their companies marketed to children. And they spent millions upon millions in lobbying and advertising to fight back every attempt to expose these denials as lies.
    Fifteen years later, their campaign has finally failed. Today, thanks to the work of Democrats and Republicans, health care and consumer advocates, the decades-long effort to protect our children from the harmful effects of tobacco has emerged victorious. Today, change has come to Washington.
    This legislation will not ban all tobacco products, and it will allow adults to make their own choices. But it will also ban tobacco advertising within a thousand feet of schools and playgrounds. It will curb the ability of tobacco companies to market products to our children by using appealing flavors. It will force these companies to more clearly and publicly acknowledge the harmful and deadly effects of the products they sell. And it will allow the scientists at the FDA to take other common-sense steps to reduce the harmful effects of smoking.
    This legislation is a victory for bipartisanship, and it was passed overwhelmingly in both Houses of Congress. It’s a victory for health care reform, as it will reduce some of the billions we spend on tobacco-related health care costs in this country. It’s a law that will reduce the number of American children who pick up a cigarette and become adult smokers. And most importantly, it is a law that will save American lives and make Americans healthier…. – White House, 6-22-09
  • Obama, citing his smoking woes, signs tobacco law: Lamenting his first teenage cigarette, President Barack Obama ruefully admitted on Monday that he’s spent his adult life fighting the habit. Then he signed the nation’s toughest anti-smoking law, aiming to keep thousands of other teens from getting hooked…. “I know. I was one of these teenagers,” he said. “And so I know how difficult it can be to break this habit when it’s been with you for a long time.” – AP, 6-22-09
  • REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON THE MEDICARE PART D “DOUGHNUT HOLE” AND AARP ENDORSEMENT Diplomatic Reception Room: So as part of the health care reform I expect Congress to enact this year, Medicare beneficiaries whose spending falls within this gap will now receive a discount on prescription drugs of at least 50 percent from the negotiated price their plan pays. It’s a reform that will make prescription drugs more affordable for millions of seniors, and restore a measure of fairness to Medicare Part D. It’s a reflection of the importance of this single step for America’s seniors that it has earned the support of AARP, which has been fighting for years to address this anomaly in the system on behalf of older Americans. AARP is committed, as I am, to achieving health care reform by the end of this year. And I’m committed to continuing to work with AARP to ensure that any reforms we pursue are carried out in a way that protects America’s seniors, who know as well as anyone what’s wrong with our health care system and why it’s badly in need of reform.
    Our goal — our imperative — is to reduce the punishing inflation in health care costs while improving patient care. And to do that we’re going to have to work together to root out waste and inefficiencies that may pad the bottom line of the insurance industry, but add nothing to the health of our nation. To that end, the pharmaceutical industry has committed to reduce its draw on the health care system by $80 billion over the next 10 years as part of overall health care reform. … – White House, 6-22-09

    Historians’ Comments

    • Julian Zelizer “Obama to Appeal to Public on Health Care as Senate Struggles”: “Clearly, the optimism of health-care proponents was off the mark,” said Julian Zelizer, a history and public affairs professor at Princeton University in New Jersey. Zelizer said Obama faces many of the issues that killed a similar effort in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. “Does it mean defeat? Not at all. But the next few months remain a huge challenge.” – Bloomberg, 6-24-09
    • Julian E. Zelizer: Commentary: Is Obama’s honeymoon over?: June has been rough for President Obama. After experiencing enormous success during his first months in office, some of his political vulnerabilities have started to emerge. As Republicans begin to think about the 2010 midterm elections and moderate Democrats decide how they should vote on Obama’s most ambitious initiative, health care, the White House must prevent these weaknesses from becoming debilitating….
      But in recent weeks a candidate who was once seen as invincible is now seen as potentially vulnerable. This is when the sharks start to circle in American politics. The revelation of weakness gives Republicans, as well as unhappy Democrats, more confidence to challenge the White House. This is not what the president wanted right as he is trying to win support for his health care proposal and the rest of his budget. If the problems are not contained, they can also become the foundation for the Republican campaign for Congress in 2010. – CNN, 6-23-09

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