“We fumbled the rollout on this health care law.”
“That’s on me.”
“It was insufficient.”
Again and again, President Barack Obama on Thursday shouldered the blame for his botched health care rollout in unusually blunt terms — a step many of his critics contend was long overdue. In an even rarer admission, he also acknowledged that the cascade of troubles was damaging his credibility with the American people and threatening to take a toll on his broader second-term agenda.
“It’s legitimate for them to expect me to have to win back some credibility on this health care law in particular and on a whole range of these issues in general,” Obama said during a lengthy news conference.
The president’s somber and reflective acceptance of personal responsibility for failures with his signature law marked the latest chapter in the White House’s evolving posture on the “Obamacare” woes.
In early October, with much of Washington and the country distracted by the federal government shutdown, the president and his advisers dismissed the widespread problems afflicting the HealthCare.gov website as a consequence of unexpectedly heavy traffic. Officials declared it a “high-class problem.”
But when the shadow of the shutdown lifted, it became clear that the technology problems were broader than first acknowledged. So Obama deployed to the Rose Garden and declared that “nobody’s more frustrated by that than I am.” But the event quickly took on a pep rally feel, with the president serving as both cheerleader in chief and pitchman for the law, reading off website addresses and 1-800 numbers where operators were standing by to sign up eager insurance purchasers.
Then came another pressing problem: the cancellation letters millions of Americans were receiving from their insurance companies. Republicans crowed that Obama clearly had misled the public with his repeated assurances that people who liked their plans could keep them. And Democrats, especially those running for re-election next year, worried that the discredited promise would damage their own political prospects.
At first, the White House tried to dance around the discrepancies. The president suddenly started adding new caveats to his promise, saying it only applied to those whose plans hadn’t been changed by insurance companies. Officials tried to focus instead on the benefits for people who would need to find new insurance. Last week, Obama offered an apology of sorts, saying he was sorry that Americans were losing coverage, though he didn’t apologize for making the promise in the first place.
But after six weeks of website woes, broken promises, tumbling poll numbers and deepening frustration from his own party, Obama appeared on Thursday to come to grips with the reality that an extensive mea culpa might be his only option to salvage the public’s trust, both in the law and the president himself.
“I am the head of the team. We did fumble the ball on it,” he said. “What I’m going to do is make sure we get it fixed.”
Predictably, the reaction to Obama’s hour of self-reflection was largely split down party lines.
“As a leader, you have to do that,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said. “I appreciate that and I respect that from a person.”
But Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, dismissed the apologies as a belated attempt to save face.
“It’s disappointing it took weeks of public outcry for the president to acknowledge what he’s known — and denied — for years,” the spokesman for the Ohio Republican said.