How Congress Is Responding to Obama’s Speech

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Mavericky Republican Olympia Snowe.
Mavericky Republican Olympia Snowe. Photo: Getty Images

Sure, Obama was hoping to recharge public support for health-care reform last night, but his real constituency was the 535 men and women seated in neatly organized rows before him, the ones who ultimately have to decide whether to lend their vote to whatever bill emerges from Congress. More specifically, though, Obama was talking to basically two distinct groups: liberal Democrats, most of whom still insist that the public option will have to be ripped from their cold, dead hands, and moderates — mostly Democrats but also that maverick-y duo from Maine — who remain skeptical, especially about costs. Judging by the post-speech reactions from some of these major players, Obama was fairly successful in reassuring both liberal and moderate Democrats. The Maine women, meanwhile, are maintaining their poker faces, while for most other Republicans — forget about it.

Moderate Democrats:

Blue Dog Representative Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota: "I come away from that with new hope that maybe we can reach agreement. I think progress was made tonight."

Blue Dog Representative Jim Cooper of Tennessee: "If the details live up to the quality of the speech, then it’s a good plan."

Blue Dog co-chair Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin of South Dakota: "Blue Dogs agree with President Obama that the insurance market should be reformed. We must end the practice of denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions, and we must eliminate the waste, fraud and abuse that is currently bankrupting the system. The Blue Dogs share the President's commitment to passing health care reform this year, and we look forward to continuing the important work of crafting this critical legislation."

Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana: Obama "made a legitimate effort to say, 'Let's try to find common ground.' That is what we're sent here to do. That's what the American people want us to do. And we owe it to them to make our best effort."

Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska called it "a bit of a game changer." He added in a statement, "The President is clearly determined to achieve bipartisan health care reform this year, and I was pleased he outlined more specifics of his plan. I applaud him for embracing ideas pushed by both Republicans and Democrats as he reaches toward consensus" on health care.

Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota: "I think the speech was very helpful because the President was very clear, he wants to reach across the party divide, to work together, to achieve a result that's critically important for the country. You know really, here, failure is not an option."

Liberal Democrats:

Representative Anthony Weiner of New York: "He made the strongest argument yet on the public plan. He didn't make a blood oath, but I'm convinced he gets it."

Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona: "It was very encouraging. Obviously our policy point is the public plan and I thought the President dealt with it. He didn't get into a lot of specificity of what he does support and doesn't support."

DCCC chair Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland: "The speech galvanized support along the Democratic caucus across the political spectrum, from the progressive caucus to the Blue Dogs, and everybody left determined to get something done this year."

Representative John Dingell of Michigan: "It was quite an experience for me because first it was one of the best speeches I've ever heard," he said. He added, "I think a). he was clear enough and b). he was strong enough because he made it plain that the public option was the way to create an absolutely necessary thing for the bill to succeed — and that is competition."

Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut: "The speech will only be as good as what happens tomorrow and the day after. We have to go to work immediately on this or it will just be remembered as a good speech." Asked if Obama would get any Republican votes, Dodd said, "I don't know. There might be some."

Moderate Republicans:

Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine: “I appreciate that President Obama shared many of the details of his vision for health reform ... and signaled a willingness to work across party lines. At the same time, as I continue to oppose the inclusion of a public option in any package, I would have preferred that the issue were taken off the table."

Senator Susan Collins of Maine: "I continue to believe that addressing growing health care costs must be at the center of any health care reform legislation," she said in a statement. "The Senate Finance Committee continues to work to come up with bipartisan legislation that addresses these concerns. I look forward to seeing what its negotiations produce."

Other Republicans:
Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa: "The speech could have been pivotal for bipartisanship if it had been clear-cut in ruling out the prospect of a new government-run plan. By leaving it up to Congress, where key leaders in both the House and Senate support a government-run plan and control the ultimate outcome, the president passed up a big opportunity."

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina: "I was incredibly disappointed in the tone of his speech. At times, I found his tone to be overly combative and believe he behaved in a manner beneath the dignity of the office. I fear his speech tonight has made it more difficult — not less — to find common ground."

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee: "I sat there tonight wondering what the purpose of this evening was. I was hoping to hear the president flesh out a middle ground, but instead we heard platitudes and campaign rhetoric."

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma: "It was a good speech, the problem is that what he wants and what they've written are two totally different things. I'm willing to compromise to get things fixed. But I'm not willing to put the government in charge because we don't have a good track record."

Representative Mark Kirk of Illinois: "He talked at us. He didn't listen to us ... It was a missed opportunity."

Representative Mike Pence of Indiana: "There were a few thorns on those olive branches ... It was one more speech about the same bad plan."

Senator John McCain of Arizona: "I think it was more partisan than I had expected," he said. "I hope he gets a bill, I hope we can sit down together and do all the things we agree on."