Nearly a year after President Obama’s reelection, his former campaign manager presented him with a poster-size version of a New York Times Magazine cover from November 2011 bearing the headline, “Is Obama Toast?”
The president drew laughs with the story Monday at a dinner for Organizing for Action, an activist group started by his campaign staff. But it also served as a timely reminder for true believers that Obama has a history of defying expectations when he is down.
With his poll numbers sagging in the wake of the botched rollout of his signature health-care law, the president is making an aggressive effort to reinvigorate his base. At events in Washington and outside the Beltway this week, he is rallying his most ardent supporters to help him press forward on health care, immigration reform and the economy — at times sounding like he is back on the stump.
“I have run my last political campaign, but I’ll tell you what, I’ve got one more campaign in me: the campaign to make sure that this law works for every single person in America,” he said of the Affordable Care Act.
“I’m asking for your help,” he told the crowd of 20, drawing cheers that drowned out his words. “I need your help to implement this law. I need your help to educate folks about this law. You need to keep knocking on doors and making phone calls and traveling all across your states.”
On Wednesday, Obama took his outreach effort on the road to Dallas, where he met with health-care organizers and appeared at a pair of Democratic fundraisers. And on Friday, he is scheduled to deliver a speech on the economy at a port in New Orleans before traveling to Miami for more fundraising as part of a money blitz ahead of the 2014 midterm election.
In doing so, the president is returning to the offensive after two weeks of defending himself against Republican criticism over the poor performance of HealthCare.gov and complaints from people whose low-coverage insurance plans have been canceled despite Obama’s earlier suggestions that they could keep them.
The president and his surrogates have vowed to fix the Web site's flaws. But they also have begun to push back on what former White House senior adviser David Plouffe called a “misinformation” campaign by the GOP aimed at obscuring the health-care law’s benefits.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick (D) urged the crowd at Monday’s summit not to be “troubled by the fake outrage and crocodile tears of some critics or the breathless reports of some of the media. The benefits are what we should all be talking about.”
But the president’s defiance has led critics to accuse him of not being forthcoming about the disruptions that the Affordable Care Act will cause for millions of people who are being forced to buy new — and often more expensive — insurance plans.
Many Americans in the individual insurance market have received notices in recent weeks that their insurers were canceling their plans. At the health-care summit on Monday, Obama appeared to try to recast his earlier suggestions that this would not happen.
“What we said was you could keep it if it hasn’t changed since the law was passed,” he said, explaining that some insurers had altered their plans, leaving people potentially without coverage for some medical care.
Republicans denounced the president’s verbal jujitsu.
“What kind of leader, caught in blatant deception, responds by inventing another one?” asked Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). “Stop and admit you sold this health law on a central promise that is flat-out untrue.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whom some fellow Republicans have accused of being too close to Obama, said in an interview with CNN that the president shouldn’t be “so cute.”
“When you make a mistake, admit it,” Christie said in the interview, which was held before his landslide reelection victory on Tuesday. “I think people would give any leader in that circumstance a lot of credit for just owning up to it.”
Democratic allies also are fretting. Obama huddled with 16 senators from his party on Wednesday before leaving for Dallas, assuring them that the Web site problems will be fixed by the end of November. Several of the lawmakers, who are up for reelection next year, have urged the president to consider pushing back the enrollment period beyond the March 31 deadline, a step Obama has rejected.
Opinion surveys suggest that the president has taken a hit because of the health-care woes, which came on the heels of a 16-day partial shutdown of the federal government. Gallup’s daily tracking poll showed Obama’s job-approval rating dipping to 39 percent this week, a point higher than his all-time low set in the summer of 2011.
White House advisers believe the president can regain the upper hand by following a similar strategy that he used in 2011, when he bashed a “do-nothing” Congress for standing in the way of his policy ambitions.
“Sometimes people, particularly on our side, end up feeling frustrated or despairing,” Obama said at the summit. “And I’m here to tell you, we’ve got a righteous wind at our backs and we are, on each of these fights, going to just keep on steadily making progress. And when . . . the journey of my presidency is over, and we look back, I think people are going to be surprised at how much we’ve gotten done.”