Pelosi downplays Obamacare defections; Clyburn says Dems ‘insulating’ themselves

November 17, 2013

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sought Sunday to downplay the impact of the 39 House Democrats who broke ranks to vote for a Republican bill that would alter the federal health-care law, as one of her top lieutenants said most of the defectors were trying to "insulate" themselves.

"The number is approximately the same [compared to] two or three months ago as it is today. When the Republicans put forth a political initiative, people act, respond to it politically," Pelosi said on NBC's "Meet The Press." She was referring to House votes during the summer in which dozens of Democrats joined Republicans to vote for a measure to delay coverage mandates for individuals and businesses.

Still, Friday's vote was a striking show of Democratic disunity and the largest Democratic defection on a major piece of legislation this year. A day after President Obama presented his own fix, more than three dozen Democrats voted for a GOP-backed bill to allow Americans to keep current health-care plans, even if they don’t meet requirements established by "Obamacare."

Responding to Pelosi on "Meet The Press," Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) called the problems with the rollout of Obamacare "a mess."

"The president said he fumbled the rollout. It's time for a timeout which I've been calling for so we can go back to the drawing board," Ayotte said.

Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said he believes the Democrats who voted for the Republican plan were trying to protect themselves from political attacks.

"Maybe nine people had real serious concerns," Clyburn said on CNN's "State of The Union." "The fact of the matter is about 30 of them, and I've talked to them, were insulating themselves against sound bites."

Asked about the Democratic defections on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," Sen Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said, "they are just responding to the worries of their constituents." Gillibrand said Obama should have "just been more specific" about the plans that were subject to cancellation, and explained the necessity of such action.

On Thursday, President Obama announced his own fix to allow Americans to stay on their plans. But Republicans weren't satisfied. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said on the "State of the Union" the move was a "false fix" and a "political band-aid."

Pelosi and Clyburn defended the thrust of the health-care law, even amid the rollout problems of the past few weeks, including technical glitches that have plagued HealthCare.gov.

"This is a rollout problem. This is not a values problem," said Clyburn.

When asked whether she was willing to say that Democrats won't lose seats in 2014 as a result of the problems with the health-care law, Pelosi demurred.

"I don't think you can tell what will happen next year. But I will tell you this: Democrats stand tall in support of the Affordable Care Act," she said.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan · November 17, 2013