Harkin ‘Surprised’ By Lieberman Claim He Wasn’t Pushed On Public Option

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December 21, 2009 1:27 p.m.
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Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) said on MSNBC he was surprised that Sen. Joe Lieberman told reporters the White House didn’t pressure him to support a public option.

Harkin, a progressive who wanted to see a public option in the health care bill, said he’d “assumed” that President Obama would have been pushing Lieberman (I-CT) at all costs since that’s what Senate Democrats ultimately compromised on to secure Lieberman’s vote.

“I’m really surprised at that. I would have thought that President Obama, I know he met a number of times with Sen. Lieberman, and Sen. Nelson and others,” Harkin said. “I assumed that they were pushing hard for the public option. … The senator said ‘No’ under any circumstance and that’s why we had to do the compromise.”

Lieberman told Huffington Post his negotiations on the public option were with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

From their story:

“Well, no. I think I got pressure from the president to be for health care reform,” Lieberman said when asked by HuffPost about any pressure from the administration to support either the public option or the Medicare buy-in. “I’d have to think about this, but I didn’t really have direct input from the White House on this.”

He added that Nancy-Ann DeParle, a top administration health care aide, downplayed the public option’s significance early in the debate.

“Early on, Nancy-Ann DeParle came in, I told her my argument, I said, ‘Nancy, I don’t remember this ever being in the presidential campaign debates — or discussions. I don’t mean just the debates. And she said, ‘You know, it’s interesting. We went back and checked and there’s one mention in the bottom of a paragraph of an Obama presidential policy statement on health care where it’s mentioned as an option.’ But most of the negotiation I had on that was with Senator Reid.”

We’ve asked Reid and the White House for comment, will update when they respond.

Late Update: Reid’s office declined to comment but we tracked down Harkin and talked to him some more.

Here’s the video:

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