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In testy exchange, Chuck Grassley told Obama: No deal!

By Greg Sargent

Here's another fascinating nugget from journalist Richard Wolffe's new book. If true, it really blows up the ridiculous claim that Obama never made any genuine effort to attract bipartisan support for health reform.

Wolffe reports that Obama got into a testy exchange with Senator Chuck Grassley, in which the President flatly asked Grassley if he could support health reform if the public option were dropped and he got everything he wanted. Grassley, in effect, said: Nope. And he told a top Obama adviser the same.

The key is that this exchange occurred early on in the process, and the quest for bipartisan support for health reform continued anyway. The tale begins on page 70, when top Obama adviser Nancy DeParle met with Grassley to ask for his support amid the health care wars in the summer of 2009:

Just before [Grassley] returned to Iowa, he met with DeParle for another strategy session.

"If we do everything and resolve all the policy issues the way you want, with no public plan, do you think you'll be able to support the bill?"

Grassley looked away. "I don't know."

Grassley went to the Oval Office for a similar conversation with the president and his fellow Republican and Democratic negotiators. He asked Obama to say publicly that he would sign a bill without a public option of a government-run plan. Grassley believed this would be a reasonable, minimal demonstration of Obama's desire for a bipartisan deal. But the president declined to confront his own party base so explicitly. Obama asked Grassley the same question DeParle had posed: With every concession he wanted, could he support the bill?

"Probably not."

"Why not?" asked an exasperated Obama.

"Because I'd have to have a number of Republicans," said Grassley. "I'm not going to be the third of three Republicans. I've defined a bipartisan bill as broad-based support."

So there you have it. Keep in mind that Wolffe, who is very plugged in to the Obama White House, might be expected to offer an account that's sympathetic to the President and his team. But if this is true, Grassley flatly said he couldn't support the health reform bill even if he got everything he wanted, because it was still falling short of his definition of "bipartisan."

By Greg Sargent  | November 16, 2010; 2:42 PM ET
Categories:  Health reform, Political media, Senate Republicans  
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"Because I'd have to have a number of Republicans," said Grassley. "I'm not going to be the third of three Republicans. I've defined a bipartisan bill as broad-based support."


How hard is that to understand???

Greg you are really being ridiculous here.

What is wrong with you???

Posted by: RedTeaRevolution | November 16, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

I don't get the point of all this discussion about who sought bipartisan support. What are you trying to prove, Greg? That the GOP is a political party?

Posted by: sbj3 | November 16, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Bipartisanship is not just picking off a few Republicans.

It is genuine negotiations with the leadership of the other side - to find a bill that many on BOTH sides can support.


That is what Obama PROMISED during the campaign of 2008.

Also, compromise REQUIRES both sides having political cover. Greg, your position is that you want Republicans to go in without basic political cover.

Greg - your position is silly and childish.

There really is now reason to discuss this further.

Obama's platform in 2008 was a pile of deceptions and lies.

If the democrats continue to insist, they risk losing even more Independents - if there are any more to lose.

NO ONE wants the democrats around if this is how they are going to act.


Posted by: RedTeaRevolution | November 16, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

sbj, you're not playing dumb, are ya?

It has been widely claimed that Obama did NOTHING to win over any Republican support. If this anecdote is true, it blows up that claim.

Posted by: Greg Sargent | November 16, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse


Who cares.

There was not nothing. Obama tried to get the two Senators from Maine - he needed their votes to get out of the Senate committee.

Bipartisanship is negotiating with the leadership

The problem is Obama wanted a 2,000 page bill which was largely leftist - not centrist.

This discussion is silly.

Got anything else that makes sense???

Posted by: RedTeaRevolution | November 16, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

@Greg: No I'm not playing dumb. Everyone saw the live C-Span telecast of Obama meeting with congress to discuss HCR. If you are claiming that there are people out there suggesting differently then I haven't seen it. If you are claiming that this anecdote proves that the Dems didn't try to pick off just enough Republicans to pass this mess then this doesn't prove a thing.

Posted by: sbj3 | November 16, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

sbj -- is there something wrong with trying to attract just a few Republicans, rather than the majority of them, at a time when some of them have openly said that their main goal is to deny the President any major achievements?

Posted by: Greg Sargent | November 16, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Greg just pwned you teatardlicans.

Posted by: Observer691 | November 16, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

A while back Paul Krugman posted something about Republicans being utterly recalcitrant to the short-term tut-tutting of the DC crowd and pressing ahead with their (apparently brilliant) plan of blocking every last thing the Democrats tried to do. He marveled at their ability to ignore the media and stick to the game plan. He also took a few obligatory shots at Obama & the Dems for seemingly bending to every nasty op-ed to show up in the WashPo or NYTimes. But Obama's persistence in seeking Republican support for things may turn out to be the ultimate long-term game plan. What if he really does wear them down into actually governing? That would be a spectacular achievement in and of itself. Who knows? We're not even at half-time of Obama's first term. Maybe he'll have the last laugh. It's not like we're telling him anything new by saying that Republicans aren't interested in bipartisanship.

Posted by: klautsack | November 16, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

I don't think people remember the bills being worked on in various committees.

The finance committee originally had what, Grassley, Snowe and Enzi on the group that was crafting their version with Baucus, Conrad and a couple other Dems.

Bennet teamed up with Wyden to draft their own versions.

I thought they all had some sort of bi-partisan efforts going in.

It wasn't until the astro-turf groups overwhelmed the discussion then caribou barbie chimed in with death panels that Republicans began dropping like flies out of the bi-partisan groups.

So, bottom line. Republican chicken out from lies and distortions from special interest groups rallying the base against it and then turn around and claim it was a partisan bill.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | November 16, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

@Greg: "sbj -- is there something wrong with trying to attract just a few Republicans?"


I still don't understand these "bipartisan" posts. There was an effort on the part of the Dems and Obama to get bipartisan support - anyone who says otherwise is a goofball and not worthy of a response. Ultimately, however, the Dems passed a bill without bipartisan support. If you are trying to claim that the Grassley anecdote proves the GOP was just playing politics, you are taking this a step too far. The Grassley anecdote only shows, rightly or wrongly, that he felt a bill of such magnitude required more broad support.

Posted by: sbj3 | November 16, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

SB3- I do think that people have tried to paint Obama as being unwilling to compromise on the health care bill.

Regardless, the bottom line is that people don't seem to care if the Republicans obstruct and just say no. They simply aren't buying that criticism so why are Democrats insisting on fighting a battle they have already lost?

Posted by: ashotinthedark | November 16, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Nice to know that dumping the public option was such an important part of garnering bipartisan support.

And it is a good thing our nation was saved from socialism, except of course for those federal farm subsidies that Senator Grassley's constituents can't survive without.

Posted by: bearclaw1 | November 16, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

All this does is describe what everyone knows to be the case, the gNOp is the party of NO! Period, end story.

Posted by: mtravali | November 16, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

@ashot: "The bottom line is that people don't seem to care if the Republicans obstruct and just say no. They simply aren't buying that criticism so why are Democrats insisting on fighting a battle they have already lost?"

You state this much better than I. This is why I don't understand the Greg posts about bipartisanship.

BTW - everytime I read your name I think "a$$hat" - nothing personal.

Posted by: sbj3 | November 16, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Greg - I get your point that Obama did his best to gain bipartisan support. We know that.

But this post I have trouble with. Why? Because I think Grassley is being less than forthcoming when he says:

"Because I'd have to have a number of Republicans," said Grassley. "I'm not going to be the third of three Republicans. I've defined a bipartisan bill as broad-based support."

I'm not saying Grassley didn't make that claim, I'm just saying Grassley was fibbing when he said that.

I think there was a deliberate strategy amongst Senate Republicans to block or delay all legislation that was put in place before Obama even took office.


From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Before the health care fight, before the economic stimulus package, before President Obama even took office, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, had a strategy for his party: use his extensive knowledge of Senate procedure to slow things down, take advantage of the difficulties Democrats would have in governing and deny Democrats any Republican support on big legislation.

Posted by: HansSolo | November 16, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse


How about the Financial Reg bill - when there were substantive and constructive bipartisan negotiations going on

ONLY to see Obama pull out of the negotiations so he could pull a few "stunt votes" just to try to make the Republicans look bad in the press.

OH, that plan worked OK until a company that Obama had taken almost a million dollars from had an explosion on an oil rig - after Obama said he studied offshore drilling and said it was all safe - BP

Oh, yea, Obama is really bipartisan.

It really is silly attempting to communicate with anyone who insists on being deceptive at the very beginning.


Posted by: RedTeaRevolution | November 16, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Since the GOP is more of a cult than a political party, the only way that Obama can even get them to cooperate is to use a little LBJ on them. EVERYONE, even Grassley, has some sort of "skeleton in the closet" that could have been used at the appropriate time. The fact that Obama doesn't seem to have an instinct for the jugular is, perhaps, his greatest fault.

Posted by: filmnoia | November 16, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Health care debate?

Obama and the Democrats screwed it up and produced a flawed product.

That is all anybody will remember or care about.

The rest is just journolist rationalization. (It makes them feel better. - I do not know why.)

Posted by: TECWRITE | November 16, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

"The fact that Obama doesn't seem to have an instinct for the jugular..."

Ha! Tell that to Hillary.

When it comes to campaigning he can be ruthless, but his instincts regarding passing legislation seem a bit off.

Posted by: sbj3 | November 16, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse


You are correct - the health care bill was always a flawed product.

Real negotiations may have produced a far better, and less expensive bill.


If Obama wanted bipartisan cooperation, the financial regulation bill was probably Obama's best chance - but even then Obama couldn't resist just messing it up and trying desperately to make the other side look bad.

I find playing such games to make the other side look bad childish and distinctly unPresidential.

Obama should have been spending his time on other more important things - rather than the partisan gamesmanship he was always playing - and losing I might add.


Posted by: RedTeaRevolution | November 16, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

"Obama and the Democrats screwed it up and produced a flawed product. That is all anybody will remember or care about."

This is the fact of the matter. The process was business as usual and the product is the health care business as usual, just much, much more of it.

But at least, while the money we spend creating health care might be borrowed, we won't spend it exploiting illegal labor or on overseas industries.
We may have crucified ourselves, but "...always look on the bright side of life..."

Posted by: shrink2 | November 16, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

All, check this out, Bush has been totally vindicated by history:

Posted by: Greg Sargent | November 16, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Umm Greg can you explain to me how a passage showing Obama to be batshit stupid about Republican obstructionism, then going on to be batshit stupid for another year or so, casts HIM in a flattering light and Republicans in a bad light? HELLO!

Posted by: conandillon | November 16, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

This is epsilon-semi-moronic reporting.

Posted by: Jzangi | November 16, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Oooops, sorry it is an opinion article. Well, it's an epsilon-semi-moronic opinion.

Posted by: Jzangi | November 16, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

More confirmation that Obama wasted his time trying to placate the Party of No. In retrospect, they could have had a health care bill passed by the summer of 2009, while Ted Kennedy was still alive and able to inspire his colleagues and before Fox had issued its marching orders and invented the "tea party."

Posted by: mylesgordon | November 16, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

More to the point, Grassley was SO eager to build that broad base of bipartisan support that he promptly went home to Iowa, stood on a hay bale and told the enormous lie about "pull the plug on Grandma," knowing full well that was not in the bill whatsoever.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-IA, no wait make that L-IA-R.

Posted by: jade_7243 | November 16, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

I have heard the argument that there was no attempt to do anything in a bipartisan way. Mitch McConnell made this statement numerous times after the election, in reference to Pres. Obama. Attempts were made and rebuffed.

Republicans didn't care about making changes to the health care system. At most they would have added some regulations for insurance companies, but that isn't certain. What became clear in the meeting that was shown on Health Care is that the republicans didn't care about the Americans who were not covered by health insurance.

To be honest, I think many republicans believe that if you don't have something you are lazy and you don't deserve it. I think many suffer from a lack of empathy. I also believe many republican's sympathize with the rich because they themselves are rich and so they personally know of their troubles, or seek not to help others because if they can't have it neither can anyone else.

I wouldn't mind if people had their policy points as to why things should be done or not. I do not like when people just make things up and parade it around as if it were the truth. When numbers are used to illustrate points it would be nice if the numbers weren't exaggerations or apples/oranges comparisons.

Is it too much to ask that your politician do something for the people that they represent without some weird political calculation? If you are a leader in your caucus, why aren't you going back to get the support of your caucus? They take their lead from you.

Posted by: whiteha1 | November 16, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Nothing new here. The dems in committe bent over backward to appease Grassley, then he went back home and told folks there he wasn't voting for the bill no matter what. So much for the repubs crying that they weren't asked, even when many portions of the bill contained repub incentives. Liars then, liars for the next two years.

Posted by: mikel7 | November 16, 2010 7:19 PM | Report abuse

Yet they caved anyway and gave up the public option.

Posted by: WmLaney | November 16, 2010 9:40 PM | Report abuse

I have posted this already here before You guys should stop complaining because, one the health care we have now isnt as good as it was supposed to be. also the law has just been signed so give it some time. so if u want to say u have the right to choose tell that to ur congress men or state official. If you do not have insurance and need one You can find full medical coverage at the lowest price check .If you have health insurance and do not care about cost just be happy about it and believe me you are not going to loose anything!

Posted by: crawiford | November 17, 2010 5:49 AM | Report abuse

The important thing is that Obama and Reid overcame the major collective action problem of getting 60 out of 60 (arguably) Democratic Senators to vote for the thing in December. The question is the degree to which Obama's good faith efforts at bipartisanship-- and willingness to compromise-- helped in solidifying his caucus, and how much memories of 1994, when not-passing the bill was blamed in part for electoral defeat, were the motivating factor.

Posted by: jacobh | November 17, 2010 6:46 AM | Report abuse

Searching for Republicans after the bill was written AND after the public was already turning on it isn't bipartisanship, you idiot. It's looking to spread the blame.

So sorry no one could be suckered into it.

Posted by: nashbridges | November 17, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

"Searching for Republicans after the bill was written AND after the public was already turning on it isn't bipartisanship, you idiot. It's looking to spread the blame."

DeParle met with Grassley in the summer of 2009. The final bill was signed by the President in March of 2010. The public option wasn't dropped until December of 2009. You really are an idiot.

Posted by: Brishon | November 17, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

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