President Obama told Democratic lawmakers Wednesday that he envied the position they were in to battle Republicans on the frontlines in the halls of Congress.
“I envy you so much,” he said, according to lawmakers in the room during their closed-door meeting. “Because I would love to be on the field right now … you’re privileged to be in the arena.”
The president traveled across town for a rare meeting on Capitol Hill with Democrats and, according to members of Congress and aides in the room, told them to stand their ground and fight Republicans over every attempt to repeal his signature policy achievements, particularly the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Republicans are set to begin debate today over a budget resolution that could lay out instructions for repealing the president’s law.
During today’s meeting, Obama sought to remind Democrats that many pieces of the law were still popular with voters, and that doctors and hospitals were worried about changes that could upend folks’ access to insurance.
“Despite the negativity, you have a big chunk of the country that wants this thing to succeed,” the president said, according to aides in the room. Sources say he emphasized that “real lives were at stake.”
“That the country is clamoring to undo this thing is simply untrue,” he continued, sources say.
Obama also offered advice on political and legislative strategy, and encouraged members to focus on telling stories of how the law has impacted people’s lives, as well as to attend town halls in their districts. Many Democrats have said that if they play their cards right, they think Republicans could shoulder major political fallout if they attempt to repeal or defund the law without a plan for replacing it.
After the meeting, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said, “[Republicans] are inviting chaos. Unless they have something better to start with, it is irresponsible for Republicans to repeal Obamacare.”
Since passing the law, Democrats have lost the majority in both the House and Senate, and several lawmakers in the room today have also faced tough political battles back home over the controversial legislation.
During the meeting today, the president took responsibility for some the political troubles with the law. “I will take the responsibility for not having fully communicated with the American people for why this is an extraordinary victory for them,” he said, according to aides in the room.
Over and over, members leaving the meeting expressed a desire to unite as a party and “fight.”
“When they try to hurt the progress we’ve made on quality health coverage, we’re going to be engaged. We’re going to fight with everything we have,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, said. “It’s not politics for us, it is the people we represent who are going to be at risk.”
“[President Obama] encouraged us to fight, which we already made clear we are going to do anyway,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said after the meeting. “President-elect [Donald] Trump made it clear that we would not have people dying in the streets. We are going to hold him to that. I think the question that has to be asked of the Republican Party is: Are you making things worse for the American people, or better?”
House Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley, D-New York, introduced the president and reminded his colleagues that the fight over health care was just one of many they expected.
“Keeping a rein on big banks, protecting the environment, ensuring workers are paid fairly, that immigrants feel welcome, that civil rights are upheld,” he said. “All of these are the fights we are facing, and that we must start to prepare for now. It’s not just President Obama’s legacy that is at stake — it is our values as Democrats, and as Americans.”
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