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Axelrod gives Dems their health talking points

Senate Democrats are girding themselves for a month of vigorous debate over healthcare reform, armed with a new set of talking points from David Axelrod, the president’s chief political strategist.

Axelrod and Jim Messina, the White House deputy chief of staff, met with the Senate Democratic caucus Thursday afternoon to strategize over how to talk about healthcare during the August break.

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Axelrod told lawmakers to focus on reform of the health insurance industry when talking to constituents in their states, said Democrats who attended the meeting.

Axelrod also instructed senators to talk about Democratic healthcare reform plans in comparison to the status quo. During a press conference last month, President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaPresident Obama should curb mass incarceration with clemency DNC applauds Obama investigation into Russian hacking Biden: Trump will not undo most climate change policies MORE warned that without reform, Americans’ costs will double over the next 10 years.

After the meeting, Axelrod told reporters: "I think that the American people understand that the status quo works very well for insurance companies. It doesn’t always work well for them and I think that they’re going to be heard."

The White House officials also urged senators to stick to the game plan and not let themselves become distracted by criticism and town hall protests being organized by conservative and business groups.

“Much more specific advice was to stick with what we’re doing and don’t let them throw you off course,” Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerSenate Dems hold out on spending deal, risking shutdown Dems see ’18 upside in ObamaCare repeal Confirm Gary Richard Brown for the Eastern District of New York MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters when asked about Axelrod’s message to the caucus.

Democratic lawmakers watched videos of protesters disrupting town-hall meetings and discussed how they should react in similar situations.

Democrats have already begun to focus their rhetoric on health insurance companies. A strategy memo obtained by The Hill last week shows that leaders have developed a strategy to attack insurance companies.

"In many respects, today’s insurance market is inhumane,” said Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenSenate sends annual defense bill to Obama's desk Senate fight over miners' heathcare boils over Budowsky: Did Putin elect Trump? MORE (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Finance Committee. “It’s all about cherry-picking, it’s about taking just healthy people and sending sick folks over to government programs more fragile than they are.”

Democratic leaders have also begun an effort to discredit healthcare protesters who have begun showing up in droves when lawmakers meet with constituents to discuss healthcare reform. But some of their colleagues are wary of that strategy.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidStaff shakeup begins at Dem campaign committee The Hill's 12:30 Report Emanuel flips the bird when asked about 2020 MORE (D-Nev.) called the protests “phony” at a press conference he held earlier in the day, holding up a swatch of Astroturf to reporters to illustrate his point.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinSenators move to protect 'Dreamers' Manchin urging colleagues to block funding bill as shutdown looms The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Ill.) said the groups connected to the health insurance industry have organized the protests in an effort to protect corporate profits from new government regulations.

“This is a staged effort,” Durbin told reporters.

Several Democratic senators, however, have been careful not to dismiss the protests as mere public relations stunts.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillSenate passes stopgap funding bill, averting shutdown Senate advances funding measure, avoiding shutdown Stopgap funding bill poised to pass Senate before midnight deadline MORE (D-Mo.) pointedly disagreed with her leaders in a message posted on her Twitter page.

“I disagree that the people showing concern over some healthcare proposals are ‘manufactured’ Real folks, strong opinions,” she wrote.

When asked during a Fox News interview whether strategists have manufactured the strong feelings expressed at town-hall meetings, Sen. Ben CardinBen CardinDems fear Trump undermining US stature Aide: Trump invited Philippine leader to WH Dem senator: Hold hearing on Russian interference in election MORE (D-Md.) said: “In the town hall meeting I had, that was not the case.

“People have strong views about healthcare reform,” he said. “The overwhelming majority of Americans want to participate. They want to know how it affects them, and what it will do with their health insurance through what it will do with their healthcare costs. Those are legitimate questions.”