Obama meets with Senate Democrats facing re-election to discuss health care law
Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama met Wednesday with Senate Democrats facing re-election next year to discuss the problem-plagued health care rollout that could affect their races.
The White House confirmed Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met with 16 senators to describe fixes that are being made to the website for Americans to sign up for insurance under his signature health care law.
One attendee, Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, said Obama "didn't hesitate to accept responsibility for the issues that have slowed the law's implementation and laid out the White House's strategy for fixing them."
Another Democrat, Sen. Mark Pryor, said he told Obama and Biden to "fix the website immediately," address problems with the law and hold accountable those at fault for the mistakes.
"I won't let up until these problems are fixed," said Pryor, who faces a difficult re-election next year in conservative-leaning Arkansas.
Two other Democrats familiar with the meeting, which was not listed on the president's public schedule, said it lasted about two hours and also included White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and Jeff Zients, the president's troubleshooter for the website. Such a dedication of time by so many top-level officials reflects concern for the political fallout the problems could inflict.
The Democrats, who spoke on condition of anonymity since the meeting was private, said Obama kicked off the meeting and expressed that they all want the program to be successful, and then Zients gave a lengthy technical presentation.
One the participants, Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, said he urged the president to extend the six-month enrollment period because of the problems. Udall said in a statement that he also encouraged Obama to ensure the security of personal information submitted on the site.
"The rollout of HealthCare.gov has not been smooth — to say the least — and I shared the concerns of Coloradans directly with the president. Consumers should have the time they need to shop for a plan and enroll after the widespread problems with the website are fixed," Udall's statement said.
But White House press secretary Jay Carney rejected the idea of an extension. "We still believe that there is time available to make the necessary improvements to the website and to use all the other means that we can to get the information to the American people who want to enroll in time for them to do it."
Carney denied that Obama is concerned with the politics of health care and simply wants to improve access, but the press secretary noted that Democrat Terry McAuliffe won the Virginia governor's race Tuesday while supporting the law.
After the meeting, Obama left the White House with Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, chairman of the effort to elect Democrats to the Senate, who attended along with the 2014 incumbents. Obama and Bennet flew together aboard Air Force One to Dallas, where the president planned to encourage Americans to enroll in health care plans and also raise money at two fundraisers for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
The Democrats familiar with the meeting say the senators told Obama stories they are hearing from their constituents about problems they are having enrolling. They said the tone of the meeting was still respectful and that the sense was that all their fates are tied.
"He knows better than anyone how important it is to the country that they get this right and is clearly committed to doing so," Coons said in a statement.
The White House said other meeting attendees were Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Al Franken of Minnesota, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Mark Warner of Virginia.
Associated Press writer Josh Lederman contributed to this report. Follow Nedra Pickler on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nedrapickler
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