President Barack Obama on Saturday delivered what attendees described as a somber but inspirational closing argument to House Democrats steeling themselves for a series of gut-wrenching votes on a massive health care overhaul.
Speaking without notes to a packed gathering in the Cannon House Office Building Caucus Room, Obama exhorted Members to seize a historic opportunity to approve the measure, a cornerstone of his domestic agenda.
The president opened by pointing to the killing spree at Fort Hood, Texas, earlier this week that left 13 dead and more than 30 wounded as an example of true sacrifice that puts in perspective the political heartburn the vote is causing some lawmakers. I think it made a lot of people feel a little less sorry for themselves about their political problems, Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) said afterward.
And Obama appealed to House Democrats to take advantage of the opportunity before them, hailing the vote as a moment to make history, according to the notes of one aide in attendance.
The president gave the Caucus a rhetorical pat on the back for its accomplishments to date, ticking off its success approving a $787 billion stimulus package, an expansion of childrens health insurance, and a measure to guarantee equal pay for women. But Obama said the pending vote on the health care package would stand out as the proudest of House Democrats careers.
Andrews said he thought the President swayed at least a few votes with his appearance. He said Obama made glancing reference to two social policy disputes, over abortion and immigration, that divide the party and remain unresolved heading into the afternoon debate.
He said he knows there are very emotional and difficult questions the Members will have to confront, Andrews said of Obama. He knows that theyre divisive. But hes confident well find a way to unify and take this step forward for the country.
Abortion-rights supporters are facing the prospect of having to accept tough new language demanded by opponents of the procedure. But Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a leading member of the House pro-abortion-rights bloc, said the president made a convincing case for lawmakers to move the process forward. What the president was saying today is very persuasive and what we believe as well, she said. Were here because we have the opportunity, the privilege really, to get health care to all Americans. And because we have the opportunity to fine-tune the bill in conference, I think that will address some of the concerns about voting for a final bill.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.