Watching President Obama’s deeply partisan speech Tuesday on his health care law, you might have thought he was making a play for the midterm elections, with red meat rhetoric that could make Democratic base feel good again, if at least for a day, about a major legislative accomplishment gone awry.
But top congressional Democrats say the explanation is more simple, and more visceral: Obama was combative because it was a chance to vent after enduring unrelenting criticism for so long.
“I think his critics have been pretty much up in his face!” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the number two-ranking House Democrat, told Breitbart News when asked why Obama took such an in-your-face approach. “I think he was responding and saying, this is good, this is good for the American people, and I’m going to make that case.”
“You’ve had a Republican Tea Party, for years, distorting, misrepresenting, telling people not to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, and you think the president was tough? I mean…” added Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the ranking member on the House Budget Committee and a key Obama surrogate on spending issues.
Asked in a brief interview whether Obama’s speech would help Democrats in the midterms, Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said “You guys are so political!”
“I thought the speech was great. I thought the pride that he took in reaching the 7.1 million was appropriate. He asked the question — why? Why are they doing this? Why would they deprive women of ending the discrimination of cost for insurance or kids to go on their parents’ plan. I think the questions he asked were the obvious ones,” Pelosi added.
A senior Democratic aide said Obama’s tone was “absolutely” about letting off some steam and not a calculated play to the base.
Democrats “have been frustrated with the way its been messaged and portrayed,” the aide said.
“Republicans also backed themselves in to a dumb spot by focusing on the number” of enrollees, the aide added. Democrats pushing back when the numbers exceeded the goal, at least on paper, “was like a piece of cake they just couldn’t not eat.”
“Big healthcare reform will take a long time to show the positive impacts – years and years, and they can beat us up until then,” the aide said.
Notably, there was a tension in the Democrats’ rhetoric on the issue on Wednesday: they seemed to want to proclaim the success of the law while not going too far, and looking out of touch.
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), the Democratic Caucus Chairman and a top messaging guru for the party, repeatedly mentioned the bad with the good.
“I heard a president that was proud to see that after a botched rollout, we are now able to say that millions of Americans have the health security was promised,” Becerra said. “I believe we have a president who is essentially saying, we gotta roll up our sleeves, there’s much more to do,” he added.
That was in contrast to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), a freshman lawmaker who normally doesn’t appear at the press conferences, who exuberantly called Obamacare a “smashing success.”
New York Rep. Joe Crowley, the vice caucus chair, asked,, “What’s wrong with being passionate? This is something the president believes in, it’s something we believe in, something we’ve been talking about for many years now. Yesterday was quite a successful day for the president and for his agenda. We shouldn’t read into this — it wasn’t indignant.”
Republicans on Capitol Hill watching the speech were a bit unsure about what Obama was going for. One top aide noted that vulnerable Senate Democrats seem to be more interested in changing the subject than chanting “scoreboard,” while a key political hand doubted the one day of good Obamacare news would do much to change the narrative about the law.
“Almost felt like he spent more time complaining instead of announcing anything important. Also I think he referred to the law as ObamaCare so are we back to calling it that now? Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t like that,” the second aide said.