By Molly K. Hooper - 01/24/10 08:48 PM EST
President Obama's healthcare reform plan may be on life support but
it's not dead yet, according to senior White House advisers who hit the
airwaves on Sunday morning.
Despite the unexpected political upset in Massachusetts last Tuesday, when voters of the traditionally liberal bastion voted to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D) with a Republican state senator, the White House isn't giving up on its top domestic policy item.
“Those discussions are happening right now to see whether or not we can get something done and when we can do it. But I know the president, again, is convinced that healthcare is part of the economy,” Gibbs explained, noting that the president would discuss his economic plan at the State of the Union address on Wednesday night.
Gibbs made clear, however, that the landslide upset in Massachusetts meant little change for the president’s policy goals.
The position was echoed by senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, who appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” when pressed on whether Tuesday’s vote in the Bay State was in fact a referendum against Obama’s massive healthcare reform struggle while unemployment remains in the double digits.
"What he's doing and what happened over the course of the week is there have been a series of phone calls and conversations to try to see what the climate is, what's the art of the possible. What the president is always going to do is try to push hard for the American people. He's not going to give up on that because of one election in Massachusetts," Jarrett told the weekly political talk show’s host David Gregory.
Republican lawmakers continued to contend that the surprising election of GOP state Sen. Scott Brown to fill Kennedy’s seat in the U.S. Senate was a wake-up call that the American people oppose the big-government policies pressed by the Obama administration.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) said that if Democrats don’t change course and if they attempt to press the healthcare reform bill through the Senate by a parliamentary maneuver, then they just “don’t get the message.”
“If they try to jam it through as they have so far, strictly along partisan lines, then I think November 2010 will be a very good month for us. I think we will gain a lot more seats, because frankly I think it will show how tone deaf they were to the message that the voters of Massachusetts and across the country were trying to send,” Cornyn predicted on “Fox News Sunday.”
Gibbs shot down talk that the defeat in Massachusetts was in fact a stinging rebuke of the White House policies to date.
Citing a poll conducted by the Washington Post, Gibbs responded “that's not what they told pollsters” when asked if he thought voters supporting Brown were voting against Obama policies.
“That may be what he campaigned on but that's not why the voters of Massachusetts sent him to Washington,” Gibbs maintained.
Jarrett continued a similar line of attack.
“What we learned from the Massachusetts victory is that people are sick and tired of Washington not delivering for them. And so that question is really will the Republican Party be willing to come and work with us,” Jarrett said.
The Senate's top-ranking Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), posited that his party has tried to do work with the president on healthcare reform but instead GOP ideas did not make it into the comprehensive package approved with only Democratic support in the Senate.
To date, the administration only granted a select handful of moderate GOP senators a seat at the healthcare reform negotiations table; at this point, McConnell said, it would require tossing out the Democratic plan that barely garnered enough votes in the House and Senate before GOP leaders would want to engage in negotiations on healthcare.
"If they get past this arrogant phase they have been stuck in about a year that 'we know best, we don't want to listen to public opinion, we want to' quote, 'make history,' end quote, if they can work their way past that and concentrate on the real problem which is the cost, we are willing to look at it," McConnell said on "Meet the Press."
White House advisers maintained that they will do what is in the best interest of the people and intend to remain steadfast to their initial planned objectives.
Still, questions over whether the White House was asleep politically arose Sunday morning with the revelation that David Plouffe, the mastermind behind Obama and the Democrats' sweeping 2008 election victory, had been recruited for duty again.
Jarrett emphasized that the White House was "not hitting a reset button at all" with Plouffe’s return to duty on the political front.
Gibbs explained that Plouffe would work with the White House political shop to monitor 2010 gubernatorial, Senate and House campaigns.
Cornyn contended that the Democrats' political problem isn’t that they “got caught napping in Massachusetts” and need an effective political operative to keep tabs on candidates, it’s that they need to refine their policies.
“What they have failed to acknowledge so far is the unpopularity of the policies, whether it's national security policy, treating people like the Christmas Day bomber as a ordinary criminal, as opposed to the terrorist that he is, and trying him before military tribunals and gathering actionable intelligence. I think the unpopularity of the healthcare bill -- Scott Brown unequivocally said, 'I will be the 41st vote to stop this bill and start over,'” Cornyn said.