Obama becomes President Absent-On-Campaign as Obamacare, economy and foreign policy sink

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama is distancing himself from the critical task of repairing his crippled Obamacare website so he can return to the campaign trail.

“The President is a very interested observer in this [repair] process [and] is being regularly updated on it, and is holding that team accountable for results,” Josh Earnest, his deputy press secretary told reporters Oct. 25, while flying with the president to three fund-raisers in New York.

Obama’s departure Friday from the White House illustrates his focus on electoral and ideological gains for progressives, rather than on economic and practical gains for actual Americans.

Obama’s aides say neither he nor they paid enough attention to the website development program during the summer to realize the site, HealthCare.gov, would crash once it was put online. So far, they have repeatedly refused to explain Obama’s management failure.

In the last few weeks, he’s also distanced himself from the budget impasse that temporarily shut down part of the federal government. He’s walked away from upcoming budget negotiations with the elected GOP majority in the House, from the high-stakes national debate over immigration, and from the unfolding crash of his Middle East Foreign policy.

He’s also kept his distance from economic policy. In September, the nation added fewer jobs than it added workers.

Obama’s effort to revive the Obamacare software is now being run by Jeff Zients, a former management consultant at Bain & Company. “Jeff and his team are responsible for sort of the day-to-day monitoring of all this,” Earnest said about the rushed effort to repair the crippled website.

The website’s failed Oct. 1 rollout has crippled Obama’s primary political prize — establishing federal control over the industry that helps the nation’s 330 million citizens manage their health and lives.

Obama did stage a high-profile but widely criticized appeal Monday in the Rose Garden, asking the public to have patience while the website is rebuilt. The criticism of his “ShamWow” speech, during which the president of the United States was reduced to repeating an 800 number for citizens to buy their legally required health insurance, stung.

“Some people have poked fun at me this week for sounding like an insurance salesman… that’s okay. I’d still be out there championing this law even if the website were perfect,” Obama said in his Oct. 26 weekly address.

While he champions Obamacare, he’s left the task of resurrecting his primary legacy to others. “We are going to get it working as smoothly as it’s supposed to.  We’ve got people working overtime, 24/7, to boost capacity and address these problems, every single day,” he said in the weekly address.

The president’s weekend speech, unsurprisingly, included a political pitch tuned for the 2014 election. “We did [create Obamacare] to cement the principle that in this country, the security of health care is not a privilege for a fortunate few, but a right for every one of us to enjoy,” he claimed.

Prior to Obamacare, the privileged few with health-care benefits included roughly 100 million Americans getting government-funded health services, and 167 million Americans who bought health insurance from private sector companies.

Obama is increasingly focused on what he’s really good at — running political campaigns, specifically,  the 2014 mid-term election.

On Friday, while Zients announced a complete management overhaul of his flagship Obamacare website, and promised to get the system mostly working by Nov. 30, Obama was heading to three fundraisers in New York.

At the fundraisers, he promised ideological victory for the progressive donors, regardless of the public’s preferences.

“The one thing I’m absolutely confident about is that if we work hard, that we can make a case to the American people and we can win,” he told a group of 50 donors gathered at a private home in New York.

“Because what we care about… is what this country is all about,” he told the donors.

“What I also know is, is that when Nancy Pelosi is Speaker of the House of Representatives, she acts on behalf of that vision, even when it’s hard and even when it’s inconvenient, and even when it runs contrary to the politics and the polls,” he continued.

“I’ve seen it before and I’ll see it again. But I’ll only be able to see it because of all of you,” he concluded.

The speech was given to donors assembled by Karen Mehiel, the wife of Dennis Mehiel, a major donor at McCain’s campaign, and the chairman of a company that manufactures cardboard. Earlier, Obama had met with 60 more donors at an Upper East Side event organized by Kathryn Chenault, the wife of Kenneth Chennault, the CEO of the American Express company. Later, he met more donors at an Upper West Side home of David Shaw and his wife, Beth. Shaw is a wealthy hedge-fund manager.

Obama’s focus on the campaign trail also takes precedence over crafting a popular compromise on the nation’s immigration policy.

In June, Senate progressives worked with business groups to pass a bill that would double immigration of low-skill workers, and double the population of university-trained workers, despite the country’s accelerating automation, stalled wages and 20 million unemployed or underemployed Americans.

Numerous polls show the public is opposed to an increased inflow of workers, but Obama told a campaign-style White House rally Thursday that “the American people support this — it’s not something they reject, they support it.”

“If there’s a good reason not to pass this common-sense reform, I’ve yet to hear it,” he insisted, shortly after citing a Congressional Budget Office report. The June report, however, showed the increased immigration would transfer more of the nation’s income from ordinary workers to wealthy investors.

But polls and data haven’t dented Obama’s identification with immigrants. “We still have a chance to get immigration reform done and a chance to affirm that we’re a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” Obama told his Oct. 25 donors.

In fact, America is a nation of Americans. Only 10 percent of American citizens and residents are legal immigrants.

Obama has also minimized efforts to negotiate budget compromises with the elected GOP majority in the House. During the October budget impasse, Obama sent Vice President Joe Biden — who is liked by many GOP legislators — off to Camp David to demonstrate his opposition to any political compromise with Republicans.

Throughout that crisis, Obama and his Democratic allies also rejected a series of GOP mini-funding bills that would have funded more government agencies, but weaken his effort to shield the ambitious Obamacare project.

As soon as the budget impasse ended with a victory for Obama and his allies, his spokesman said the president would distance himself from negotiations intended to avert another budget crash, likely due in December and January.

“The president will be as involved as he and members of the Congress believe to be useful,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Oct. 17. But, he added, “the president has already demonstrated a level of seriousness through the budget he put forward [in April]… which includes tough choices for Democrats and Republicans.”

That hard-edged political strategy won him a victory in the budget fight, but undermined efforts by some GOP politicians to push through an immigration bill that Obama supports.

Obama is also apparently absent from his collapsing foreign policy in the Middle East, where Iran has consolidated its power in Syria and continued its development of nuclear weapons.

That expansion threatens to ignite a regional war and a nuclear-arms race with Saudi Arabia, which has begun bankrolling Egypt’s new government after it deposed the U.S.-backed Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt.

“The strange thing about the crackup in U.S.-Saudi relations is that it has been on the way for more than two years, like a slow-motion car wreck, but nobody in Riyadh or Washington has done anything decisive to avert it,” David Ignatius, a Washington Post foreign-policy columnist, wrote Wednesday.

“The administration’s lack of communication with the Saudis and other Arab allies is mystifying at a time when the U.S. is exploring new policy initiatives, such as working with the Russians on dismantling chemical weapons in Syria and negotiating a possible nuclear deal with Iran,” Ignatius wrote.

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