For a president and congressional Democrats under siege for months last year during the disastrous HealthCare.gov rollout, Tuesday’s news of 7 million exchange sign-ups came as vindication four years in the making.
The White House rolled out the full victory lap regalia — capped by a sunny Rose Garden statement by President Barack Obama on the resuscitation of his signature legislative achievement.
It has been a rocky period for the White House, with few opportunities for celebration. The administration has faced near-daily challenges in implementing the Affordable Care Act, with Obama’s poll ratings underwater, his legislative agenda stalled, the Democratic Senate potentially in play in November and members of his own party scrambling for cover.
But this time, the president wasn’t talking about a distant foreign crisis or a government shutdown. Nor was he apologizing for a broken website or a broken promise.
“This law is doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s working,” the president declared to cheers from assembled supporters, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois.
“The debate over repealing this law is over. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” Obama said.
He added that members of Congress who passed the law should be proud of what they accomplished and said he didn’t understand why people opposed the law and were trying so hard, in his words, to keep people from getting insurance.
And he said the horror stories peddled by the law’s opponents have not come true.
“There are still no death panels. Armageddon has not arrived. Instead this law is helping millions of Americans,” he said.
Pelosi, who took on the most congressional responsibility for delivering Democratic votes to pass the legislation — and lost the speaker’s gavel in the subsequent election — lunched with Obama. She spoke to reporters outside of the West Wing for a celebratory press conference of her own, breaking the news that 7 million had signed up for insurance through the exchanges.
Pelosi sought to put the law’s troubles behind her and her flock.
“It never for one instant occurred to me that the Affordable Care Act would collapse. Yes the website didn’t perform. We were very disappointed. It was an embarrassment. But it was an episode and it’s over. ... The consensus in our caucus was, ‘We’re going to ride this out.’”
Instead, she wanted to focus on the broader impact of the law — an end to pre-existing conditions and new options for affordable coverage.
She refused to engage much in the politics of the numbers.
“The number speaks to a healthy America ... that’s what we’re happy about,” she said.
But she said Democrats would continue to “pivot” to jobs legislation this fall.
“We’re not running on health care. We’re not running away from it,” she said.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, so often on the defensive over the law’s bumpy rollout, was practically exultant Tuesday and clearly wanted to linger on the topic.
“Oh it is a good, good day here at the White House,” he said.
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.