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« Cornyn: 'Evolving' 2010 Landscape Lets NRSC Expand Field | Blog Home Page | Is GOP Better Served If Health Care Passes Or Fails? »

Obama Hits The Road As Internal Strife Threatens Reform

So close to an important vote, President Obama might have been expected to be traveling Monday to the district of an undecided member of the House. Instead, Obama was outside Philadelphia, in a town shared by three Congressmen who voted for health care reform and show no signs of wavering.

"If you look at where we're going, it doesn't really have an impact on a particular member," White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton told reporters on Air Force One en route to the event. "I wouldn't say that this is about any specific targeting in that sense."

What the White House reportedly was hoping to do was create a sense of momentum behind his proposal, combining a supportive crowd with a particularly fiery speech from Obama.

"I ask you to help us get us over the finish line these next few weeks," Obama shouted at the end of the event, described by many to be reminiscent of the 2008 campaign. "The need is great. The opportunity is here. Let's seize reform. It's within our grasp."

In several interviews at the start of 2010, Obama said that if he were to point to one mistake in his first year, it would be that he and his administration were too focused on the inside game, making what were in some cases critical decisions, but overall failing to communicate with the public at large.

"What they've ended up seeing is this feeling of remoteness and detachment," Obama told George Stephanopoulos just after Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate race.

Events like Monday's, and another to come Wednesday in the St. Louis area, would seem to be part of the administration's answer. Sen. Arlen Specter (D), who joined Obama in his home state, said he was glad to see the passion from Obama, and that he wished he'd seen it sooner.

But the issue at hand is not how it plays in the heartland, or "quasi-heartland," as Specter described the Philadelphia-area setting Monday. Rather, it's the whip count in the House Democratic caucus, with the White House hoping for a successful vote by next Thursday. And so it is again Obama's inside game that's at play here, and his seeming inability to win the battle inside the Beltway has led to more palace intrigue that is threatening to overshadow the policy fight at hand.

Last week, Obama held a series of meetings with Democrats trying to shore up support for his legislative strategy going forward, with some of those House Democrats still unsure whether they have faith enough in the Senate to again put their necks on the line. In one meeting, Obama told a more progressive group that should this latest effort to pass health care fail, it would doom the left's entire agenda for the foreseeable future. Rep. Raul Grijalva, who was in that meeting, said that sentiment made a strong impression.

But the voice of another group of uneasy Democrats was given a greater megaphone Monday. Retiring Rep. Eric Massa's (D-NY) comments in a weekend radio interview, focused as they were squarely on White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, have added to a growing obsession about administration tactics, and a debate over who is to blame for an agenda that has failed to progress at the expected speed.

"Rahm Emanuel is son of the devil's spawn," Massa famously said. "He is an individual who would sell his mother to get a vote. He would strap his children to a front end of a steam locomotive."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office did reject Massa's claim that his resignation was orchestrated to help lower the threshold of votes Democrats need to pass the Senate version of health reform. Press secretary Robert Gibbs told ABC this morning, "I think this whole story is ridiculous. I think the latest excuse is silly and ridiculous." You can be sure that Obama's time will be increasingly occupied with reassuring forces in Washington before he heads back on the stump Wednesday.