Where does Obama go from here?

Where does Obama go from here?
© Greg Nash

President Obama and his team are embarking on a shift in message just days before facing an even bigger onslaught of ObamaCare criticism. 


Obama apologized Thursday night to Americans who are losing their health plans in spite of his promise that, if they liked their coverage, they could keep it. 

The comment represented a major shift in tone for an administration that has been in crisis mode since last month, when the rollout of HealthCare.gov was deemed a serious failure. 

Now, the White House is heading into a week that's guaranteed to test its new messaging approach. 

The question is — can Obama effectively turn the page in the face of news events certain to be unfriendly to ObamaCare? 

Congressional Republicans are preparing to devote the next week to hammering the healthcare law and its rollout. 

The House alone has five hearings scheduled where the administration and the Affordable Care Act will be portrayed in a negative light. 

The lower chamber will top off this effort with a Friday vote designed to hit Obama head on for his "keep your plan" promise. 

The vote may come on the same day that the administration releases ObamaCare enrollment data for the first time. 

Officials have sought to downplay those numbers as disappointing given problems with HealthCare.gov. 

"Until the site is really improved … we’re going to have a struggle getting significant numbers to sign up,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusIs a presidential appointment worth the risk? New Dem Kansas gov reinstates protections for LGBT state employees Next Kansas governor to reinstate LGBT protections for state workers MORE this week. 

A series of other shoes could drop throughout the week. 

Democrats, particularly those facing reelection in 2014, increasingly support bills to change the law's implementation timeline. 

A new measure from Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinGabbard cites ‘concerns’ about ‘vagueness’ of Green New Deal Democrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general MORE (D-W.Va.) would delay the individual mandate to buy health insurance. 

If it gains further steam, it will put the White House in a tough spot with health insurance companies, who want a delay off the table. 

New problems are also being revealed with HealthCare.gov as teams seek to fix a long list of initial glitches. 

These challenges raise questions about the administration's self-imposed deadline of Nov. 30, when officials say most users are guaranteed a smooth experience on the enrollment site. 

Altogether, these challenges raise pressure on Obama to follow through on what he said Thursday night. 

"We've got to work hard to make sure that [people] know we hear them, and we are going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this," Obama told NBC News. 

Some have hinted that an administrative fix could come in the form of wider tax credits for people buying coverage on the exchanges. 

But in the absence of a major policy announcement next week, Democratic strategists urged the White House to hone its new message and tone in the face of Republican attacks. 

Credibility and trustworthiness should be the administration's "north star" in the coming weeks, said Clinton administration veteran Chris LeHane. 

"The president did what he needed to do, which was apologize," said LeHane. 

"He needs to continue to reflect concern and contrition about where the program is right now." 

Both critics and allies have accused the administration of adopting a "bunker mentality" over the last six weeks. 

Officials initially denied, or were unaware of, the severity of problems facing the enrollment site, for example. 

LeHane suggested that this tendency is more damaging with the public than the failures on display at HealthCare.gov. 

"[The administration's] biggest vulnerability has not been the competency issue," he said. 

"It's been the trust issue … How they take on the events of next week needs to be through that prism." 

The last six weeks have posed new and unexpected challenges to the White House. 

Obama's approval rating hit a new in a Pew Research Center poll released Friday. 

The survey also showed that 59 percent disapprove of his handling of healthcare issues. 

Democratic strategist Doug Thornell urged the White House to use a combination of tactics — including hitting back against the GOP — to bring those numbers up. 

First, Obama and his cabinet officials ought to hold daily events with people who have benefited from the Affordable Care Act, Thornell said. 

Second, the White House ought to enlist a "surrogate army" across the country to rail against the Republican agenda for healthcare, he said. 

"Think of all the Democratic mayors, governors and attorneys general who want to see the law succeed," Thornell said. 

"The White House could be synchronizing the activities of the party a little tighter." 

These leaders could also criticize health insurance companies in a way the White House cannot, he said. 

"Democrats need to be counterpunching or else we're just taking on too much water," Thornell said. 

"If you're responding, you're losing, so Dems need to try to keep on offense."