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In Broadcast Blitz, Obama Calls for 'Civil' Tone on Health Care

President Obama speaks during a taping of ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos at the White House.
President Obama speaks during a taping of ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos at the White House. (By Pete Souza -- White House Via Bloomberg News)

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By Ceci Connolly and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 21, 2009

President Obama sought to blanket the airwaves with an impassioned defense of his health-care reform effort Sunday during back-to-back broadcasts of taped interviews on five morning news programs.

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In interviews conducted Friday in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Obama acknowledged being "humbled" by the challenge of "breaking through" in the complicated and emotional battle over health-care reform.

"I think there have been times where I have said I've got to step up my game in terms of talking to the American people about issues like health care," he told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week."

"I've tried to keep it digestible, you know, it's very hard for people to get their -- their whole arms around it. And that's been a case where I have been humbled and I just keep on trying harder, because I, I really think it's the right thing to do for the country."

Beyond health care, Obama also said he will remain skeptical about the need for more U.S. troops in Afghanistan until he is satisfied that the military has the right strategy for winning the war there. And as previously reported by the networks on Friday, he dismissed former president Jimmy Carter's contention that critics are fueled primarily by racial hatred.

But the interviews were devoted primarily to the battle over his health-care efforts. Hewing to virtually the same script in each, Obama voiced a desire for a more "civil" tone in the debate.

"We all have an obligation to try to conduct this conversation in a civil way. And to recognize that each of us are patriots," he told NBC's David Gregory on "Meet the Press."

Republicans shot back quickly, sending out an e-mail to reporters titled "IF IT'S SUNDAY, IT'S MISLEADING THE PRESS." In it, the Republican National Committee offered its theory for the president's five-show Sunday blitz: "Desperate To Get Americans On His Side, Obama Continues To Push Falsehoods About His Government-Run Health Care Experiment," the release read.

After Obama's appearance on NBC, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said the issue is not one of rhetoric or style.

"The president is selling something people aren't buying," Graham said. "He's been on everything but the Food Channel."

In the interviews, which also included CNN's "State of the Union," CBS's "Face the Nation" and the Spanish-language Univision, Obama portrayed himself as willing to take politically difficult positions, citing his move to push for the use of alternative dispute resolution in cases of medical malpractice.

"That's not popular in my party," h e said on NBC.

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