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What President Obama Didn't Say
The gentleman from Ohio — the last man standing on health care, as he put it in this conversation with Esquire.com just before Sunday's vote — reveals the personal moments behind his decision, and how the fate of a nation, if not a presidency, could have turned out a lot differently had he said "no"
The meeting that took place on Air Force One was the fourth in a series of meetings that I had attended with the president in the last few months. There was a meeting on March 4 where the president called nine members to the Roosevelt Room at the White House, and eight of the members had voted for the bill when it passed the House last fall. I was the only one who voted against the bill. I thanked the president for inviting me even though I was a "no" vote. And in the more than hour-long meeting, the president covered a lot of territory about what he thought was important to consider. I sat quietly and listened carefully and took some notes. And at the end of the meeting, you know, we thanked each other, and I left.
When I arrived home that evening — March 4 — I still had this deep sense of compassion for the president for what he was struggling with in trying to pass the bill. And it was very clear to me that there was a lot on the line here — that he didn't say. I was just thinking about the scope of American history, and here's a president who's trying to do something, even if I don't agree with him. I told my wife, "You know I kinda feel bad about the situation he's in here. This is really a tough situation — his presidency is on the line." And I had a sense of sadness about what I saw him grappling with. I still maintained my position, still went forward in debates, arguing in meetings, arguing against the bill because it didn't have a public option, didn't have an opening for the states to pursue single-payer in a free manner. But at the same time I kinda remember the feeling that I had about watching him as he was dealing with this and, you know, trying to do what he felt was best for the nation.
Now keep something in mind about my relationship with President Obama: He and I campaigned together. A meeting with the president is always important — he and I have met dozens of times, during the campaign and since he became president — but we've met on many occasions. Four or five times about health care. So the relationship I have with him is a little bit different than other members who weren't on the campaign trail with him and who hadn't developed a relationship with him apart from the relationship that members of Congress ordinarily have with the president.
So I was really looking at Barack Obama the man, and thinking about his presidency. I've had differences of opinion with him on a number of issues. But I understand how this is a pivotal moment in America, and in his presidency. It's also a pivotal moment in American history. Of course, I carried that awareness with me into the next meeting, which took place on Air Force One on the fifteenth of March. Last Monday. So much has happened in just one week, but during that time, there had been a lot of speculation. I had done many interviews attacking the bill for its well-publicized shortcomings and I was not relenting. After we met on Air Force One, I didn't tell the president that "Look, I'm changing my position — you got me." We didn't have that discussion. Read more.