Obama challenges GOP on healthcare

President Obama used a Republican senator’s criticism to rally supporters for healthcare reform and to challenge the GOP not to play political games with the issue.

Speaking to a group at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington on Monday, the president blasted comments from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).

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On a conference call last week, DeMint said that if the GOP can stop Obama's healthcare push, it will be Obama's "Waterloo."

"It will break him," DeMint said.

Obama did not mention DeMint by name but did reference that quote.

"Think about that. This isn't about me," Obama said. "This isn't about politics. This is about a healthcare system that is breaking America's families, breaking America's businesses and breaking America's economy. And we can't afford the politics of delay and defeat when it comes to healthcare. Not this time. Not now."

The back-and-forth comes as the president continues his hard push on Congress to make progress on healthcare reform before the August recess. It also comes as a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows public approval of Obama's leadership on healthcare reform has dropped below the 50 percent mark for the first time. But Obama still tops the GOP when it comes to public trust on the issue, beating Republicans by 20 points.

The president made his remarks after holding a roundtable with healthcare providers at the hospital where he said they "spoke about where we're headed if we once again delay and defer health insurance reform."

"The need for reform is urgent and indisputable," Obama said.

In setting up DeMint's remarks, Obama said there are some in Washington who see the need for reform but "believe or perhaps hope that we can put off the hard work of insurance reform for another day, another year, another decade."

Obama urged members to "fight our way through the politics of the moment" and pass reform this year.

Obama has ramped up his rhetoric over the last week as Republicans have increasingly and aggressively targeted the cost of the proposals.

Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), said the president's attempt to turn the Republican Party into a "straw man" amounts to "an act of desperation."

"Maybe the White House should instead focus on members of its own party who are increasingly worried about the cost and consequences of their government takeover of health care," Ferrier said. 

A White House aide said Friday that the president still wants to see bills out of the House and Senate before they leave for August recess.

-- This article was updated at 2:51 p.m.