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Obama Meets With Moderate Dems On Health Care

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today at the White House, President Obama is working to push his health care plan over the finish line. He met with a group of 17 moderate Democrats, most of whom are seen as skeptical of Mr. Obama's effort. They left the meeting this afternoon with no comment to reporters.

Earlier, I spoke with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson about the president's big speech last night and about that group of 17 senators who met at the White House.

MARA LIASSON: Well, it includes Indiana's Evan Bayh, Nebraska's Ben Nelson, Louisiana's Mary Landrieu. These are people who've expressed some reluctance to vote for some parts of the president's plan particularly the public option.

SIEGEL: Did they like what they heard last night?

LIASSON: I think they did. Last night, the president gave an eloquent full-throated defense on why the public option is important, and then he turned around and made it pretty clear that he wasn't going to insist on it. So I think that…

(Soundbite of laughter)

LIASSON: …what he did last night the left got the rhetoric. And he really did explain the public option and why it was important. But I think the right -the moderates in his party got the substance. I think that over the summer this debate has moved to the center and the president acknowledged last night that that's where he thinks it's moving. And I think moderates were happy. They're the ones who feel their jobs could be on the line if they vote for a bill that's too far to the left, no liberal lawmaker is going to lose his seat over the substance of health care reform.

SIEGEL: So in terms of actually moving closer to congressional approval of a health care plan a gain of a few yards last night…

LIASSON: I think so I think he moved the ball. I think that he, what he succeeded in doing last night is he repackaged a lot of the things he already said he was for or suggested he could be for, things that have already been agreed on by some of these committees, but he put it together in a very concise orderly way, so that if there was confusion about what the plan was, now people can understand it.

And he said over and over again my plan, in my plan, you know, what I want to have happen. He's not sending legislative language up to the Hill, but he is identifying himself and kind of in an act of presidential leadership, he's saying, this is what I want.

I think he also succeeded in rallying the faithful. It was a very strong speech for the base of his party who've been complaining that he hasn't been bold enough, and he also spoke directly to the target audience for health care reform and that is the people who already have insurance and are really nervous about what reform could mean for them.

SIEGEL: Are Republican's in the Congress a target audience at all? And did he make any difference with them?

LIASSON: They were a target. I don't know if they're a target audience…

(Soundbite of laughter)

LIASSON: They're target as in - as in a bull's eye. I think that what he did last night was really interesting. He ostentatiously embraced a few narrow Republican proposals. He said my former opponent John McCain proposed these high risk insurance pools and I'm for that. That's something that you would do before the exchanges got in place in 2013. These are for people who have preexisting conditions. They want a place where they can buy low cost health insurance.

I think that he also said that he's going to have demonstration projects on medical malpractice reform, and he agreed with the proposal to tax some gold plated insurance plans, the very expensive ones. Those were all proposals that have been made by Republicans.

I think that those proposals were made not to get Republican votes - because he doesn't have much hope of doing that - but to show the public his reaching out and he's bipartisan, which is what they want and as a gesture to moderate Democrats to show that he's moving to the center.

SIEGEL: But for all the efforts to at least to try to appear to be bipartisan, you could watch that speech last night and you could tell parties by who was standing and who was sitting throughout. You could identify pretty well.

LIASSON: The reaction to the speech was partisan and Republicans complaint about the speech is that he was too partisan. And I think that that shows you kind of where this debate has gotten. One of the storylines of the Obama presidency is that he came into office thinking that he could find, you know, a grand consensus and grand bargains between the party and that at every step of the way he's been disabused of that notion. I think that, you know, he showed that he could return the jabs that he feels he's gotten. He said, you know, if you put out falsehoods about my plan, I will call you out. But still, my door is always open to good ideas.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

SIEGEL: It's NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.