Obama details talks with then-White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and then-senior adviser David Axelrod, who both warned him of the political risk of tackling a massive health care law in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Obama notes the debates within the Democratic Party over several key aspects of the legislation, including the so-called Cadillac tax, which levied a tax on high-cost health insurance plans until it was repealed in 2019.
In the lengthy excerpt, Obama largely avoids criticizing his political opponents, though he did call out Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, then the Senate Finance Committee ranking member, who Obama accused of negotiating in bad faith about the legislation.
“With his long, hangdog face and throaty Midwestern drawl, he would hem and haw about this or that problem he had with the bill without ever telling us what exactly it would take to get him to yes,” Obama wrote about Grassley, who ultimately opposed the legislation.
“I was tempted to exit my perch, make my way down the aisle, and smack the guy in the head,” Obama wrote. “Instead, I simply responded by saying, ‘It’s not true,’ and then carried on with my speech as Democrats hurled boos in Wilson’s direction.”
Obama also wrote that the tea party movement, which heavily opposed his health care proposals, floated racist conspiracy theories about him, including one about his eligibility for President.
“By September, the question of how much nativism and racism explained the Tea Party’s rise had become a major topic of debate on the cable shows—especially after the former President and lifelong Southerner Jimmy Carter offered up the opinion that the extreme vitriol directed toward me was at least in part spawned by racist views,” he wrote.
The 44th President credits his talks with then-Sen. Ted Kennedy, who long championed health care reform, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s health care measure in the state, also known as “Romneycare,” as being models for health care that his administration could go by.
Recalling taking a 3-year old Sasha to the emergency room for viral meningitis and mentioning his mother who died from uterine cancer in 1995, Obama also wrote that his interest in health care “went beyond policy or politics; it was personal.”
“Passing a health-care bill wouldn’t bring my mom back,” Obama wrote. “It wouldn’t douse the guilt I still felt for not having been at her side when she took her last breath … But it would save somebody’s mom, somewhere down the line. And that was worth fighting for.”
The book is set to be released November 17 and is the first of two volumes of Obama’s memoirs.