Axelrod Counsels Democrats on August Recess Strategy

Posted August 6, 2009 at 2:35pm

Senate Democrats, acknowledging they have their work cut out for them on health care during the August recess, exited a closed-door strategy session Thursday primed to sell President Barack Obama’s No. 1 domestic priority and take on town-hall protesters.Senators indicated that White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, with whom the meeting was held, focused on a message built around “health insurance reform,— as opposed to “health care reform.— Advice was also given on how to deal with protesters expected to pack town-hall meetings across the country over the next month.Axelrod and Messina “are just helping us understand the fringe that’s trying to mess up our meetings,— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, when asked to describe what was discussed in the huddle.“The next five weeks are about closing the sale with the insured population,— Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said.Axelrod’s comments following the strategy session mirror Obama’s message of the last month. Over the summer, the president has shifted away from discussing his desire to extend health coverage to the uninsured to focusing on reforming the system for those who already have insurance.Axelrod declined to directly address what was discussed in the meeting but did not dispute that the health insurance reform message and town halls were on the agenda.“I think the American people understand that the status quo works very well for insurance companies,— he said, adding: “I’m not going to disparage people. Look, I believe in freedom of speech, I just think everybody ought to be able to talk.—Without a final health care bill to sell, some Democrats conceded that it could be difficult for them to make their case to a skeptical public between now and early September when Congress returns. But Senators said the briefing served as a useful political and policy tutorial, giving them concrete items to discuss with their constituents.Democrats said they welcome the renewed focus on convincing Americans who already have insurance that health care reform is necessary. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who has been skeptical of some Democrats’ push to create a public insurance plan, said she found much to like in the presentation.The White House, she said, is “finally focusing on some of the things that I’ve been focusing on now for a while, which is assuring the American people that the reason this debate is important to have and that we need to find a way to reform the system is because it’s too expensive for all of us.—Landrieu said she felt the White House and Senate Democratic leaders have been slow to control the public relations message until recently.“They recognize that they had been and we had been — Democrats — too focused on the process and on the specific policy, which is important, but we have lost … the development of the message, and that was a losing strategy,— Landrieu said. “And now the White House is much more on the offensive, and I think that is going to help Democrats and some Republicans who are actually people of good will who would like to find common ground.—Emily Pierce contributed to this report.