Following Scott Brown win, White House insists its mandate stands

Jon Ward Contributor
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As the country woke up to a new political landscape the morning after the Massachusetts special election, the White House tried to balance a tone of contrition with a message that the Obama administration believes it still has a mandate.

“There are messages here, we hear those messages but there is a tendency in this town … to over blow things even beyond their importance,” said David Axelrod, a top adviser to President Obama, on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown.”

Axelrod signaled that the White House is not giving up on health-care reform.

“He believes there is a real crisis,” Axelrod said. “He believes we have to deal with that crisis.”

“We also have to take into account what voters were saying yesterday … We will take that into account and then decide how to move forward,” Axelrod said.

“But it’s not an option to walk away from a problem that’s only going to get worse.”

Axelrod and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs appeared together exclusively on the show, choosing the hour-long political specialty program as the venue in which to test their messaging in the wake of Republican Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts.

Axelrod and Gibbs each said several times that they understand that there is real anger in the country, a pivot from this summer, when they dismissed those who angrily protested the health-care bill at town hall forums.

“There’s a tremendous amount of anger,” said Gibbs, who in August called the town hall protests “manufactured anger.”

But Axelrod, known as the White House’s “keeper of the message,” argued that the anger in the country does not mean their agenda has been rejected.

“There is a general sense of discontent about the economy and there is a general sense of discontent about this town,” Axelrod said. “That’s why we were elected. We are committed to doing something about it.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, appeared next on the program, and said the message of the Massachusetts election was simple.

“The message of the moment is that the American people are asking us …. to defeat this health-care bill, to start over on a truly bipartisan basis and to get it right,” said McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “They want us to stop the spending, stop the borrowing and stop the health-care bill.”

McConnell said Obama “still has a chance here to move to the middle.”

So far it seems Obama and congressional Democrats will try to ram health-care through Congress, most likely with a straight vote in the House on the Senate bill, possibly accompanied by a reconciliation bill that makes changes to pacify House members.

David Plouffe, who ran Obama’s presidential campaign, was defiant, saying that the Massachusetts election was not a referendum on health care.

“We have a choice as a party. We can cut and run, which I think will be devastating to the country … or we can get this done,” Plouffe said. “We ought to get this done and we ought to go out on the campaign”