WASHINGTON – Throughout President Barack Obama’s first four years in office, he prided himself on his ability to bounce back when much of Washington thought his presidency was in peril.
But the political challenge posed by Obama’s disastrous health care rollout is far greater than those he overcame before.
This time, the president is fighting to regain trust and credibility with the American people.
“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 news conference last week that turned into an extensive apology for the health care problems.
As bad as things are for Obama, they may be worse for many members of Congress. His fellow Democrats in both the House and Senate worry the health care problems could hurt their re-election chances next year.
Without success on other fronts to counteract the health care failures, Obama will have fewer chances to change the public’s view that Washington, and the president himself, are ineffective.
“We appear to be stuck, whatever direction we look,” William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said about Washington’s political landscape.
Obama’s health care calamity began with the flood of computer problems that crippled HealthCare.gov, the website that had been promoted as a quick and easy way for people to purchase insurance.
Those troubles were compounded when at least 4.2 million people started receiving cancellation letters from their insurance companies despite Obama’s repeated assurances that anyone who liked his or her insurance plan could keep it.
The troubles have shaken Obama’s allies.
“The rollout of the website, that’s terrible. But the fact is, that will be fixed,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
Many polls now show that Americans say Obama isn’t honest or trustworthy, or a strong leader. For example, Quinnipiac University’s poll of registered voters conducted this month found just 44 per cent thought Obama was honest and trustworthy, down 10 points since earlier this fall. Only 48 per cent felt he has strong leadership qualities, a low point in his presidency.
Obama’s advisers need only recall the Oval Office’s last occupant to see the lasting damage that could be done if those numbers don’t recover.
President George W. Bush’s credibility and trust took a tumble as the public grew weary of the Iraq war and angry over the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina. His presidency never recovered, and he left office with negative job and personal approval ratings.
Democrats are well aware that they could be caught up in that web if the health care problems aren’t solved quickly.
Even after Obama announced a change in the law aimed at helping some people whose coverage has been cancelled, 39 House Democrats voted for legislation opposed by the White House that would let insurers sell individual health coverage that doesn’t meet the law’s new standards to anyone who wants it.
“My constituents are pretty upset, and so am I,” said Democratic Rep. Ron Barber, who voted for the measure and is seen as vulnerable in next year’s elections. “The rollout has been a disaster.”
Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Henry C. Jackson and Josh Lederman and AP Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.