Emanuel: Health overhaul worth taking a political beating

Passing major healthcare reform legislation into law was worth taking a political beating, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said Thursday. 

Over the course of the 13 months it took to draft, debate and pass the $940 billion overhaul, President Barack Obama saw his once high approval ratings drop below 50 percent and faced vehement criticism from Republicans, who unanimously refused to support the effort despite his overtures.

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"As [Obama] said repeatedly, which is a sign, he was willing to spend, quote, unquote, 'the political capital' to get something done that was materially and politically, policy wise, important for the American people," Emanuel told CNN in an interview, his first since the law passed, to air Thursday evening. "And if you asked them, today, even -- or a week ago, pre- the bill, was it worth the political capital spent, he would say, yes."

Some polls have shown that the new law is popular while others have not, but Democrats are pushing forward with ads and speeches explaining how the law will reform the nation's healthcare system.many Democratic leaders have predicted the effort will be a political winner in this fall's midterm contests.

Emanuel himself became the focus on the political struggle behind the reform effort. After Sen. Scott Brown's (R-Mass.) election in January, an event that appeared to sideline the reform effort, the media reported on the alleged rift between Emanuel and several other members of Obama's inner circle.

Emanuel reportedly wanted a smaller bill that focused on more popular reforms while other advisers urged Obama to push ahead with the larger bill that did more, but suffered from poor polling and uniform GOP opposition.

But the chief of staff expressed confidence in the role he played during the push for healthcare reform, which Democrats are hailing as the nation's biggest domestic accomplishment since Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" programs.

"I have no doubt of my role in this and I feel quite good about that sense of it," he said, adding that Obama gave him a "high five" after the House passed the bill Sunday.