Not everyone agreed that it was so simple.
In a separate huddle that night, without the president, some of the former aides — including David Plouffe, Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod from Obama’s original political brain trust — advanced a different argument to deal with what they saw as a looming threat.
Comparing the situation at one point to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, they warned senior staffers that without a strategy shift — one that involved providing as much information as possible to both Capitol Hill and the news media — they would risk defections by crucial Democratic lawmakers facing reelection in 2014. Keeping the administration’s allies on board was critical to saving the broader program, so maintaining Democratic cohesion represented a key first step.
By the end of the week, the administration had markedly shifted its approach, opening up more about details of the problems and holding regular news briefings in which officials identified a deadline for fixing the Web site and the contractor in charge of overseeing the work. They delivered private briefings to Senate staffers and House members, while White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough called key senators to update them.
The belated turnabout underscored how the White House — which had spent the first two weeks of the rollout focused on reopening the government and averting a debt ceiling crisis and a third week trying to deflect questions as they enlisted help to fix the system — has been forced to scramble to fend off a backdoor assault from Democrats on the president’s signature legislative achievement.
With sparse information about the Web site’s problems at the outset, senior administration officials are now working to repair fissures in a party that managed to present a united front until last week.
“The stakes are high because of the politics of it,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), a White House ally who has criticized the contracting process. “I think the White House understands that it’s important to have transparency, so we’re not unnecessarily eroding confidence in the program.”
For three weeks, the administration provided few details about the enrollment system’s operations, including what went wrong and how many consumers were able to enroll. It is still not releasing enrollment figures or saying who specifically is repairing the site. But on Friday, Jeff Zients — the former Obama budget official brought in by the White House to oversee the effort — assured reporters that it would be functioning smoothly by the end of November.