The Note: Firing Up -- Obama seeks to revive passion in health care fight


They were fired up -- but where did they go?

A mismatch in the summer health care battles was always a distinct possibility -- though few predicted they would tip in this direction.

If there were misjudgments here, they weren’t just on what was important to the left, or on how much noise the right could generate.

They were in assuming that the public outcry for health care reform could come even close to matching the intensity surrounding the campaign.

Remember that these town hall meetings Democrats are holding have been organized, for the most part, by supporters of health care reform. They were supposed to be about building support, not airing (and shouting) grievances.

Intensity of support has rarely been President Obama’s problem. But he’s seeking to bring some passion back to his army -- among the critical missing pieces in the battle for health care reform.

And so the president is back to looking for allies. His 1:10 pm ET appearance on Michael Smerconish’s radio program, live from the White House, might bring some skeptical questioners.

Then it’s on to a 2:30 pm ET online forum set up by Organizing for America -- with the message that it’s time to get, well, organized. “This is an incredible opportunity to huddle with the President, ask questions, and discuss how we're going to pass real health insurance reform this year,” OFA director Mitch Stewart wrote in an e-mail to supporters Thursday morning.

“Amid White House concerns that it’s losing the message war on both its left and right fronts, President Obama on Thursday will try to rally his grassroots army to regain momentum and redefine the battle for health care reform,” Politico’s Jeanne Cummings writes. “For many Democratic activists, it raises the question: What took the White House so long?”

One side has it figured out: “The town-hall meeting, a format as old as democracy and a staple of congressional recesses, has taken on new force this summer, with consequences that so far have backfired on the president’s efforts to retake control of the health-care debate,” Bloomberg’s John McCormick writes. “Obama’s electronic brigade of supporters, meanwhile, has so far struggled to find traction to help push policy initiatives, something the White House is trying to change.”

“Suddenly, it's the conservatives' turn to be fired up,” Kathy Kiely and John Fritze write for USA Today, calling it a “phenomenon enabling national conservative groups to galvanize grassroots anger about big government and reshape the debate over President Obama's health care plan.

In search of passion:

“I know there's been a lot of misinformation in this debate, and there are some folks out there who are, frankly, bearing false witness, but I want everyone to know what health insurance reform is all about,” the president told faith leaders Wednesday, per ABC’s Jake Tapper and Karen Travers. “I need you to knock on doors, talk to your neighbors. I need you to spread the facts and speak the truth.”

The New York Times’ Jeff Zeleny and Carl Hulse: “President Obama sought Wednesday to reframe the health care debate as ‘a core ethical and moral obligation,’ imploring a coalition of religious leaders to help promote the plan to lower costs and expand insurance coverage for all Americans.”

(Did someone say, “false”? “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan,” the president said. McClatchy’s Steven Thomma: ”That's not true, however, according to, an independent truth squad run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.”)

(Articles of faith: “When you come out on a FAITH conference call and use the words, ‘bearing false witness’ that is a direct slap down of conservative Evangelical groups,” the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody writes. “In essence he was calling these Christian groups a bunch of [liars]. It's a serious charge. By ratcheting up the rhetoric, the President just amped up the fight against him and opened up a can of worms.”)

(And for those who got an “All circuits are busy now” message when dialing in -- feel free to read into that phrase what you will.)

Also today -- a remarkable letter from Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., to state leaders, asking that the law changed to keep a Senate seat away from Republicans in 2004 be adjusted to give Massachusetts its full Senate voice.

“Senator Edward M. Kennedy, in a poignant acknowledgment of his mortality at a critical time in the national health care debate, has privately asked the governor and legislative leaders to change the succession law to guarantee that Massachusetts will not lack a Senate vote when his seat becomes vacant,” Frank Phillips writes in The Boston Globe. “In a personal, sometimes wistful letter sent Tuesday to Governor Deval L. Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, Kennedy asks that Patrick be given authority to appoint someone to the seat temporarily before voters choose a new senator in a special election.”

Perhaps the most important detail in the story: “If [Senate majority leader] Harry Reid required 60 votes tomorrow, Ted Kennedy would be on a plane and be down in the Senate to vote,” said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

(Plus, this tidbit: “Separately, a Kennedy family confidant, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the letter was private, said the senator’s wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, is not interested in being a temporary appointee or running in a special election,” Phillips reports.)

“The letter was sent Tuesday, but Kennedy aides insist there is no material change in his condition since he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in May 2008,” the AP’s Glen Johnson reports. “Kennedy's absence from last week's funeral for his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, prompted a flurry of questions about his own health.”

As for health care reform, in the wake of Rep. Barney Frank’s confrontation with protesters (and this week had been so quiet), what the town halls have brought has been consistently unproductive for Democrats.

Think the town halls haven’t mattered? Whether this is political cover or a genuine conversion, the upshot is the same:

“Sen. Charles E. Grassley, a key Republican negotiator in the quest for bipartisan health-care reform, said Wednesday that the outpouring of anger at town hall meetings this month has fundamentally altered the nature of the debate and convinced him that lawmakers should consider drastically scaling back the scope of the effort,” Lori Montgomery and Perry Bacon Jr. write in The Washington Post.

And another voice for a piecemeal approach? “LBJ made it very clear a half a loaf is better than no loaf at all,” House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., said Wednesday. “We should do what can be done immediately and use the time between now and 2013 to figure out how to do the rest.”

Link by link: “The White House and Senate Democratic leaders, seeing little chance of bipartisan support for their health-care overhaul, are considering a strategy shift that would break the legislation into two parts and pass the most expensive provisions solely with Democratic votes,” Jonathan Weisman and Naftali Bendavid report in The Wall Street Journal.

“If a deal is not reached by mid-September, [Sen. Max] Baucus plans to present a bill that is likely to have little if any Republican support. At that point, Democrats will have to decide whether to proceed under the reconciliation process, which allows legislation to pass with a filibuster-proof 51 votes.”

Any means necessary: “We will not make a decision to pursue reconciliation until we have exhausted efforts to produce a bipartisan bill,” Jim Manley, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s spokesman, tells ABC’s Jake Tapper. “However, patience is not unlimited and we are determined to get something done this year by any legislative means necessary.”

The Washington Post editorial board can count votes, too: “The reality is that, if the Obama administration wants to get health reform done, it's going to have to back away from the public option sooner or later -- and it's getting awfully late.”

“The chances of a public option emerging from the Senate Finance Committee are now considered almost zero,” the Los Angeles Times’ James Oliphant writes.

Time’s Joe Klein: “The liberal insistence on a marginally relevant public option has been a tactical mistake that has enabled the right’s ‘government takeover’ disinformation jihad. . . . Some righteous anger seems called for, but that's not Obama's style. He will have to come up with something, though -- and he will have to do it without the tiniest scintilla of help from the Republican Party.”

Maybe a cry for more specifics, then? “One reason the public option has gained so much attention is that it is one of the few concrete components of an otherwise arcane package of reforms,” Dan Balz writes for The Washington Post. “The administration has found it difficult to make the case for reform with generalities. And virtually every other provision that has come into public discussion is one that has put the administration on the defensive. . . . What White House officials need is a short list of items to describe how a reformed health care system would operate.”

“There is at least a possibility for health care reform to gain popularity down the homestretch as the President grabs the bully pulpit and explains, in clear and simple terms to the American public, what the reform bill will and won't do,” Nate Silver writes for

Not backing down from the rhetorical fights: “The people who are bringing fascism into the debate are the people who are using fascist tactics not to disagree but to keep members of Congress from explaining their positions to their constituents and to keep their constituents from asking questions,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., told’s “Top Line” Wednesday.

Plus: “I will not vote and many of us will not vote for a final House/Senate compromise without a public option in it because we’re not going to throw hundreds of billions of dollars at the insurance companies and enact a program that will be unsustainable in the long run.”

(New Q-poll, in Florida: “President Barack Obama gets a 47 – 48 percent approval rating from Florida voters, down from 58 – 35 percent June 10, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.”)

Almost time for a break: “As the Obamas prepare to alight in Martha’s Vineyard this weekend, the getaway comes with a painful political truth: As goes the economy, so goes the first presidential vacation,” Susan Milligan writes in The Boston Globe. “The White House has not released details of the Obamas’ plans, but locals say the first family has rented the Blue Heron Farm in Chilmark, a 28-acre estate owned by William and Mollie Van Devender, both donors to Republicans. The property includes a swimming pool, access to a private beach, even a place to whack golf balls.”

(Here’s guessing this can happen without formal “plans”: “Speculation abounds that Obama will try to visit his friend Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who is in nearby Hyannis Port battling a brain tumor, but presidential deputy press secretary Bill Burton said there are ‘no plans’ for Obama to visit the ailing senator,” Milligan writes.)

A break isn’t really a break: The Plum Line’s Greg Sargent obtains an internal memo from Conservatives for Patients Rights. “The memo discusses a ‘Martha’s Vineyard ad strategy’ that’s set to kick in next week. According to a source familiar with the group’s plans, this is a reference to a planned national ad targeting the public option that will reference the President’s vacation,” Sargent writes.

It was good enough for the Obamas… ABC’s “This Week” hits the Grand Canyon, for an exclusive interview with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., airing Sunday.

George Stephanopoulos blogs: “McCain has spent most of the August recess with the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. He tweeted about meeting Moammar Qaddafi in his tent. We’ll talk about all that plus what’s been happening here at home while he’s been overseas. Is bipartisanship on health care dead and buried? Where can McCain and Obama work together -- saving the national parks?”

Money day for the party committees: “The Republican National Committee is set to announce today that it raised $6 million last month, bringing the party committee a total of $21.8 million in cash on hand as spending picks up in two key gubernatorial contests,” per ABC News.

Your 2012 burst: “Minnesota GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty, best known among Republicans for his fiscal record, has discovered a policy niche that is beginning to pay dividends for his prospective 2012 presidential bid: health care,” Politico’s Andy Barr reports. “Though party insiders tend to be more familiar with the two-term governor’s record of balancing his state’s budget three times when facing deficits without raising taxes, he is emerging as a key GOP voice during the health care debate by occupying a space between two party poles, with former Alaska GOP Gov. Sarah Palin and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich positioned on one side and former Massachusetts GOP Gov. Mitt Romney on the other.”

Speaking of Romney: “If the president wants to get something done, he needs to put aside the extreme liberal wing of his party,” the former Massachusetts governor said Thursday morning.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., speaks: He hasn’t “done anything legally wrong,” he tells the AP’s Scott Sonner, in his first public comments on the subject of his affair since his news conference in Las Vegas.

“President Clinton stood right before the American people and he lied to the American people,” Ensign said. “You remember that famous day he lied to the American people, plus the fact I thought he suborned perjury. That's why I voted for the articles of impeachment.”

End of the road? “The government will announce a plan as soon as today for winding down its popular but problem-plagued ‘cash for clunkers’ program,” Martin Zimmerman reports in the Los Angeles Times. “The announcement by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came as a New York dealership group said that hundreds of its members had stopped doing clunker transactions because of delays in getting reimbursed by the federal government.”

“Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Wednesday the department would announce within 48 hours how it intends to discontinue the program that offers car buyers rebates of $3,500 or $4,500 for trading in older vehicles for new, more fuel-efficient models,” per the AP’s Ken Thomas and Dan Strumpf.

(Secretary LaHood will be our guest on “Top Line” Thursday at noon ET, live streaming at

Stimulus salesmanship: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner travels to Ohio Thursday, where he'll meet with local CEOs from the Greater Cleveland Partnership. He then joins Gov. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, in Berea, Ohio, to discuss how a $22 billion national school bonds program under the Recovery Act is being put to use building and improving public schools.

Karl Rove swings back over the US attorneys firings: “Unfazed by facts and left with nothing to support their suspicions, the Times and Post editorial boards and Judiciary Democrats now seem to hope that special prosecutor Nora Dannehy, who is looking into the U.S. attorneys removals, will dig up something that implicates me. I am confident her findings will confirm that my actions were limited and proper. Perhaps then Judiciary Democrats will focus on more important issues and the Times and Post will admit their mistakes. It would be the responsible thing to do,” he writes in his Wall Street Journal column.

Who remembers NASCAR dads?

And: “POLITICO’s analysis found a strong regional and conservative flavor to the contributions from invited drivers, at least 11 of whom wrote checks to federal committees,” Politico’s Ken Vogel writes.

The Kicker:

“The use of ‘denote’ is wrong in all those examples.” -- Ann Goldstein, head of the copy department at The New Yorker, to ABC’s Jake Tapper, on White House Press Secretary’s tendency to use the word “denote.” (Gibbs can feel free use the term “Da Note” without fear of copyright infringement.)

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