Hugs, High Fives, and Relief As Obama Gets the Vote He Wanted on Health Care
March 22, 2010 - 3:54 AMSaid the president to the nation, "Tonight, we answered the call of history."
At nearly midnight in Washington, with a big swath of country asleep or headed that way, Obama strode into the ornate East Room with Vice President Joe Biden backing him. There was no hour too late for the president to embrace this moment.
"I want to thank every member of Congress who stood up tonight with courage and conviction to make health care reform a reality," Obama said as the top members of his own health care team stood beaming nearby. "I know this wasn't an easy vote for a lot of people. But it was the right vote."
Obama was proud but not unrestrained in victory, mindful that the Senate still has not gotten to a companion bill to fix problems with the one that just passed. The sense in the West Wing was one of perseverance after a debate with so many turns and doubts.
"We did not fear our future," Obama said. "We shaped it."
The final day had been a low-key one for Obama. No more fiery speeches, no trips to Capitol Hill, no ventures outside the White House gates at all.
Instead, the most visible spokesman for health care reform spent the final day of an exhaustive lobbying campaign out of public view.
Aides said he was roaming the West Wing, getting updates, calling lawmakers with thanks as a huge legislative win was imminent.
As the president said when he crashed a morning meeting of senior staff, this was a big day. But the spotlight fell on the House of Representatives.
The first glimpse of the president on Sunday did not come until late at night, after the final House vote on legislation to revamp health insurance rules for millions of people. But the announcement that he would give such a statement underscored that Obama was sensing victory -- and history.
Beforehand, the White House released two photos showing hand-picked images of a president in a serious fight for votes until the end.
In one, Obama was on a cell phone talking to an unidentified lawmaker from the office of his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. The president was surrounded by Emanuel and four other legislative and political advisers. There wasn't a smile in the room.
The other photo showed Obama in the Oval Office, sleeves rolled up, working the phones again in conversation with another unnamed lawmaker.
Obama called more than a dozen lawmakers on Sunday and got in touch with more than 90 during the week, the White House said without identifying them.
Before nightfall, the only burst of Obama news came in a press release around 4 p.m.
Obama revealed he would issue an executive order to make sure that the emerging health care legislation would uphold all federal funding restrictions on abortion. That step had the enormously important effect of locking in the votes of a bloc of anti-abortion House Democrats.
After that, around the White House, it was mostly a matter of counting down until the House acted.
Obama watched the main House vote on the Senate-approved health care bill in the Roosevelt Room with Biden and about 40 other members of the White House staff. When the bill won enough votes to pass, the room burst into applause and hugs.
Had this been any other spring day in Washington, Obama might have ventured out for basketball or golf.
Not on this Sunday, when no hint of taking the vote for granted would be allowed.
However, Obama did have time, like many Americans, to absorb the reality of his own busted March Madness bracket.
The president picked Kansas to win the men's NCAA basketball title; the Jayhawks fell in a big upset on Saturday. The basketball tournament continued Sunday, when some TVs in the West Wing were tuned to the games and other carried the action on the House floor.
Obama caught some of both.
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