Obama Aides Deny Massachusetts a Wake-Up Call

Wednesday, 20 Jan 2010 10:39 AM

By David A. Patten

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Senior presidential adviser David Axelrod and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs are rejecting the notion that the stunning Scott Brown upset in the Massachusetts Senate race was a voters' rebuke to the president’s policies.

Although acknowledging during an appearance on MSNBC this morning that frustration over healthcare reform was one element contributing to Brown’s win, the real problem facing the president, they maintained, is voter anger over the economy.

“There were many elements to Brown’s win, not just public opposition to healthcare reform,” said White House senior adviser David Axelrod.

“Brown supported a healthcare plan in Massachusetts similar to the president’s plan. The real anger stems from economic difficult, and the challenge transcends healthcare.”

Brown’s opposition to Obamacare was so evident that when he signed his name on the campaign trail, he followed it with “41,” signaling that he would be the 41st vote to block any healthcare-reform compromise from passing the Senate.

Brown’s victory over Democrat Martha Coakley is expected to go down as one of the biggest upsets in modern political history. Yet the administrations top advisers appeared unfazed.

Gibbs said Obama came into office with an agenda for his entire term, not just for the first-year. Addressing voter anger over the current economic circumstances, he said, is the key to the months ahead.

“I think that’s what we saw most of all coming out of Massachusetts is there’s a tremendous amount of anger and frustration about where people are economically, and whether this town is fighting for their economic well being, or fighting for the special interests’ well being,” Gibbs said. “I think that’s what ultimately is going to define more about the coming political battles and the upcoming [midterm] election.”

Asked how the administration plans to proceed on its faltering healthcare-reform proposals, Axelrod gave no indication that the president plans to jettison the increasingly controversial legislation.

“I’m not going to discuss tactics here,” Axelrod said. “He believes we have to deal with that crisis, but we also have to take into account what voters were saying yesterday, what people have been saying around this country. We’ll take that into account and then we’ll decide how to move forward. But it’s not an option to simply walk away from a problem that that’s only going to get worse."

After that response, Daily Rundown co-host MSNBC Chuck Todd seemed concerned the administration’s top two advisers might not be heeding what most Democratic leaders are now acknowledging was a blatant wake-up call in Massachusetts.

On Tuesday, for example, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., told ABC News, “There’s going to be a tendency on the part of our people to be in denial about all this.” Bayh then added: “If you lose Massachusetts and that’s not a wake-up call, there’s no hope of waking up.”

After referencing those remarks, Todd asked Axelrod and Gibbs: “Do you guys hear this wake up call? Do you believe this was a wake up call, whether it’s to retool your message, whether it’s to get your message out there better, do you hear a wake up call in what happened yesterday.”

While open to tweaking the administration’s message and focusing more attention on the economy, Gibbs’ response appeared to push back against Bayh’s remarks.

“I don’t think what Sen. Bayh would argue is that we somehow abandon our pursuit on things that are important to the middle class: How to make college more affordable, how to make retirement more secure, how to create an environment for good paying jobs in this country,” Gibbs said.

Then he appeared to remind Bayh how popular the president is in his home state of Indiana.

“Look, we won Indiana for the first time since 1964 because we understood the frustration, the anger that was out there, particularly about economics, and economic isolation,” Gibbs said.

“We were with Sen. Bayh at a lot of those events. I think we all agree we need to work even harder on that, and have the American people understand that the focus of the president’s day from the very beginning to the very end is on their economic situation.

President Obama “wakes up in the morning and he goes to bed at night thinking about how to make people’s lives better, how to create that environment for creating jobs, how to get this economy moving again for real working people,” Gibbs said.

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