The Clintons and health care: It was their issue, their passion and their failure in the ’90s. This time around, both President and Secretary Clinton worked behind the scenes to get it done, giving pep talks and campaign speeches and, in Hillary’s case, calling one stubborn Democrat as the clock ticked down to Sunday’s vote.
It ended with a hug, Hillary Clinton’s arms thrown out exuberantly to congratulate President Obama once the bill passed. The White House made sure to snap a picture and posted it online. But Hillary, and even Bill, were kept out of the spotlight for nearly all of the debate.Hillary has been almost completely out of the public eye. It’s certainly benefited the White House — which has for months refused to discuss the Clintons’ level of involvement — to keep someone who once brutally attacked President Obama’s health care plans out of the debate.
So she extended a hand privately. She was reportedly called in as a closer over the weekend, making last-ditch appeals to difficult lawmakers. She called Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), a surprise holdout who refused to vote for the Senate bill even after a one-on-one meeting with President Obama. (Lynch ended up voting against the Senate bill but for the reconciliation package.)
The White House kept her in the bullpen, she told CNN in February, taking the mound only when needed.
“When I am asked, I am very happy to respond. I mean, it’s not anything I have direct responsibility for, but I have had a number of conversations and both in the White House and on the Hill and with others who are playing a constructive role,” she said. The New York Times also reported that she made calls to on-the-fence lawmakers as the Senate neared its Christmas Eve vote.
Bygones indeed seem to be bygones. In 2008, some of the nastiest attacks between Clinton and Obama were over health care. After John Edwards dropped out, she said she was the only candidate who cared about universal health care.
Obama, in turn — and now rather ironically — dismissed Clinton’s ability to get health care passed because she was too polarizing.
So Bill Clinton has been much more visible than his wife, serving as the Democrats’ own inspirational speaker. In November, he inspired Senate Democrats to fight on after months of tough fighting.
“His message was very simply it is so important that this be done, that there are so many people, I think 30 percent of the population he said at one point or another, don’t have any health care coverage,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told TPMDC at the time, “and so the ability to fix the problem is really upon us.”
In January, he implored the House to forge ahead while they had the Senate votes.
Clinton’s remarks were, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described, “master class.”
The same day, he campaigned for Martha Coakley, in an election intrinsically tied to health care, at least for Washington.
And like his wife, he came in at the bottom of the ninth. Speaking to Senate Democrats last week, he pushed them to swallow their pride and vote for the reconciliation bill out of the House. “It doesn’t have to be perfect,” he said.
Asked after the meeting how he would feel if it passed, he told reporters he’d be “one happy fella.”
“Maybe Hillary’ll be the happiest person in America, I’ll be the second happiest person,” he said. “Even more than President Obama.”
Additional reporting by Christina Bellantoni