White House summons wafflers

WHITE HOUSE SUMMONS WAFFLERS…. We appear to be quickly entering the arm-twisting phase of the legislative process.

A day after giving his final major push to Congress to get the job done on health care, President Barack Obama is already ramping up his campaigning on the Hill by summoning to the White House a motley group of Democrats who are wavering on his proposal.

Obama reached out to different factions of House Democrats on Wednesday night and asked them to meet with him this afternoon in two separate meetings. Several lawmakers who were invited said Obama didn’t tell them what the meetings were about, but that it was fairly obvious based on the guest list.

“It’s the problem children who are being invited,” said one Member who planned on attending the meeting.

There will reportedly be two separate meetings. The first, which has already gotten underway, features President Obama speaking with liberal House Dems, some of whom are toying with the idea of joining Republicans in killing health care reform because they consider the package insufficiently progressive. The second gathering is supposed to occur an hour later with center-right House Dems, some of whom are toying with the idea of joining Republicans in killing health care reform because they consider the package too progressive.

Whether this outreach does any good remains to be seen. The president can be pretty persuasive, but he’s dealing with some angry, scared, distrustful, and risk-averse lawmakers. It’s hard to overstate how challenging getting to 216 is going to be.

But stepping back, it’s worth pausing to appreciate the increasingly hands-on role the president and his team are playing in this process. For much of January and February, it was very common to hear Democrats on the Hill (and elsewhere) ask incredulously, “Where’s Obama?” The relevant players knew what had to be done, but they wanted to see the president take charge — making the case, setting the schedule, giving vacillating members the hard sell, and dragging health care reform closer and closer to the finish line. They wanted to follow, and expected Obama to lead.

Let it be noted that the president is doing just that. Jonathan Cohn noted last night, “At any point in the last few months but particularly in the wake of the Massachusetts election, it would have been easy to back away from comprehensive reform — to cut a deal, be done with it, and move on. Instead, Obama on Wednesday committed himself more fully to comprehensive reform than he has at any time since this effort started.”

And today he’s pushing himself even further into the fray, summoning waffling lawmakers to the White House so Obama can make his pitch directly. I have no idea if the president’s efforts will pay dividends — for the country’s sake, I can only hope they do — but it’s heartening to see him go all in.