Economist Jonathan Gruber made at least a dozen trips to the White House including at least one meeting with the President.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Gruber visited the White House six times in 2009 and several more times in 2010. One of those meetings was a small group gathering with the President. Gruber also had multiple meetings with senior White House officials including Jeanne Lambrew, a deputy assistant to the president for health reform.
The White House visits are just one data point in an ongoing PR battle over Gruber. After a series of embarrassing clips showed the MIT economist describing Americans as stupid and suggesting the ACA was written to fool them, Democrats have sought to distance themselves from him.
Last week former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was asked about Gruber’s influence and replied, “I don’t know who he is. He didn’t help write our bill.” In fact, Pelosi had touted Gruber’s work herself and also had a post on her official Speaker website highlighting his assessment of the ACA.
President Obama didn’t go quite as far in trying to distance himself from Gruber but he did describe him as, “some adviser who never worked on our staff.” Gruber was never on the White House payroll but he did earn nearly $400,000 as a consultant for HHS in 2009-2010. These contracts became a matter of controversy after Gruber failed to disclose them while promoting the bill.
The political problem for Democrats is that Gruber was undeniably an insider with access to the President and his staff. That gives his off-the-cuff recollections of how the law was crafted some credibility. So, for instance, in one clip Gruber describes the Cadillac tax as a clever, “exploitation of the lack of economic understanding of the American voter.” His broader argument is that this and several other elements of the bill were specifically crafted to get around political problems.
The response to Gruber’s admissions have fallen, broadly, into two camps. Some have argued that this sort of gaming of the system is routine in Washington. In other words, what Gruber said may be true but it’s not unusual. Another camp, most notably at the White House linked Center for American Progress, has argued that Gruber’s statements are simply false.
Gruber himself has apologized, at least for his statement suggesting voters are stupid. He told MSNBC’s Ronan Farrow, “I basically spoke inappropriately and I regret having made those comments.”