President Obama expressed deep regret Thursday for the poor rollout of his health care website and for failing to make good on assurances that all Americans would be able to keep their existing health plans. He acknowledged loopholes in the law and a desire to fix them.
In a wide-ranging, 25-minute interview with NBC News’ Chuck Todd, the president discussed a number of issues including the possibility of a phased deal with Iran that could lead to an easing of sanctions--so long as the United States could verify that the Iranian nuclear program was for peaceful, energy purposes.
The Obama administration has come under sharp criticism for a glitch-filled health care website that has not worked effectively since it debuted on Oct. 1. The president has also faced claims that he misled Americans when he said they could keep existing insurance plans they liked. A small percentage of the population, which purchased individual plans deemed subpar, will in fact lose those plans and become eligible for subsidies to help purchase new ones that provide more robust coverage.
“They will be able to get better care at the same cost or cheaper in these new market places,” the president said.
Still, Obama said he didn’t do a good enough job in explaining the law. “I regret that… We weren’t as clear as we needed to be in terms of the changes taking place and I want to make sure people are finding themselves in a good position, a better position than when this law happened.” He said he was exploring what can be done “to close some of the holes and gaps in the law.”
The president said he was “deeply frustrated” that the website had not worked properly. He defended Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has been coming under fire for the rollout. Several Republicans have called for her resignation.
“I think Kathleen Sebelius, under tremendously difficult circumstances over the last four and a half years, has done a great job in setting up the insurance markets so that there is a good product out there for people to get,” said Obama. “You know, Kathleen Sebelius doesn't write code. Yeah, she wasn't our I.T. person. I think she'd be the first to admit that--if we had to do it all over again, that there would have been a whole lot more questions that were asked, in terms of how this thing is working. But my priority right now is to get it fixed.”
“Ultimately, the buck stops with me,” the president said.
Obama is confident, he said, that Americans would be better off now that so many will have access to insurance for the first time. “I will be judged on whether this thing is better for people overall,” said Obama when asked about his legacy.
The GOP has hammered at the health care law from the moment of its inception, voting on a repeal more than 40 times in the House and shutting down the government for two weeks in an attempt to defund the law. The House's next tactic will be a vote--probably on Nov. 22--on a bill called the Keep Your Health Plan Act, which would allow Americans to hold onto individual insurance plans that don't meet the Affordable Care Act's standards. It will likely pass in the House with Republican votes and go nowhere in the Senate.
When asked about nuclear talks with Iran, Obama said he’s open to rolling back some sanctions commensurate with verification about Tehran's activities. The US, he stressed, would not take military action off the table in the event that Iran does not freeze its nuclear activities. Obama said he would keep a "sanctions architecture in place" so that if Iran failed to follow through, the international community can “crank that dial back up.”
"We don’t have to trust” Iran, the president said. “What we have to do is to make sure that there is a good deal in place from the perspective of us verifying what they're doing. And that they're actually moving in the right direction.”
Secretary of State John Kerry will arrive in Geneva tomorrow where intense nuclear negotiations are underway, for a meeting with Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
Todd asked President Obama about the fact that the US had been tapping world leaders’ phones, including that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Obama has denied that he was personally informed about the surveillance.
Todd said there was a perception that “you’re not always on top of some things.”
Obama insisted he’s deeply involved in the country’s intelligence in areas that “are real threats against us [like al Qaeda].” When it “pertains to allies like Germany, I’m not pokin’ and probing.”
The commander-in-chief responded to reports that Obama’s top aides considered replacing Vice President Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton in the run up to the 2012 election.
Obama said he didn’t know about the plan or its accuracy, which was written about in “Double Down” by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.
“I am in charge of 2 million people in the federal government…so people do all kinds of stuff,” some of which are not cleared by him, said the president. Obama said one thing was for certain: “If they had asked me, I would have said there is no way that I'm not running again with Joe Biden. Because I genuinely believe that he has been one of the best vice presidents in our history. He also happens to be a friend. He also happens to be one of my most important advisors on domestic foreign policy. I like him. When my back's up against the wall, he has my back.”