President Obama, who saturated the airwaves to push his health care plan, found himself playing defense not only on his proposals to cut Medicare spending and make those without health insurance pay fines, but on the Afghan war, the community organizing group ACORN and a decision to prosecute CIA agents.
The health care message Obama hoped to deliver by giving interviews on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Spanish-language network Univision on the same day was most diluted by the president’s hesitancy to back an increase of troops in Afghanistan that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is said to be seeking.
“Until I’m satisfied that we’ve got the right strategy, I’m not going to be sending some young man or woman over there — beyond what we already have,” Obama told NBC’s “Meet the Press,” adding that he was “always skeptical” about troop increases.
The health care message also competed for attention with Obama’s announcement that he had no plans to put the brakes on Attorney General Eric Holder’s probe of CIA interrogators who operated under the Bush administration, despite a new letter from seven former CIA directors requesting that he halt the investigation.
“I appreciate the former CIA directors wanting to look after an institution that they helped to build, but I continue to believe that nobody’s above the law,” Obama told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
The statements underscore what political strategists say was a risk by the Obama administration in trying to promote a health care plan by allowing the president to sit down for questioning by multiple media outlets.
“On Monday and Tuesday, there may be three or four different headlines out there that the Obama administration doesn’t like,” said GOP strategist Kevin Madden, who was a spokesman for Mitt Romney when he ran for president in 2008.
In all five interviews, however, health care dominated the conversation. But Obama found himself mostly warding off criticism about his plan.
Obama, for instance, repeatedly said his proposal would not result in a tax increase on the middle class, even if it imposed federal fees on those who do not enroll in a health care plan.
He was challenged on that claim in several of the interviews.
“This Week’s” George Stephanopoulos even pulled out Merriam-Webster’s definition of a tax.
“I wanted to check for myself, but your critics say it is a tax increase,” Stephanopoulos said.
“My critics say everything is a tax increase,” Obama said, visibly irritated. “My critics say that I’m taking over every sector of the economy. You know that.”
Obama even told Stephanopoulos that “the fact that you looked up Merriam’s Dictionary, the definition of tax increase, indicates to me that you’re stretching a little bit right now.”
And Obama had to dedicate a substantial portion of each 15-minute interview to talk about race, which dominated last week’s news cycle after prominent Democrats, like President Carter, claimed racism was at the heart of the opposition to the president’s plans.
Each time, Obama successfully turned the conversation back to health care.
“I think it’s important that we stay focused on solving problems as opposed to plucking out a sentence here or a comment there,” Obama said. “And that the entire debate, which should be about how do we make sure middle-class families have secure health care, doesn’t get consumed by other things.”