This past week was a crucial one in the young presidency of Barack Obama. With public support for health care reform and his administration in decline, he decided to regain control over the debate with a speech before a joint session of Congress.
With concessions to intransigent Republicans, reinforcement for wavering Democrats, and even a few specifics for skeptical citizens, the president hoped to resuscitate plans for an overhaul of the medical system.
And when 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft spoke with him Friday at the White House he seemed confident he had succeeded.
Transcript of President Obama's 60 Minutes interview
STEVE KROFT: Before you made this speech there was a sense, clearly in the press and among people in Washington, that this program was in trouble.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Right.
KROFT: That the healthcare reform…
KROFT: …healthcare reform was in trouble.
KROFT: Do you think you changed some minds? Do you think you picked up some votes this week?
OBAMA: Well, here's a conversation I had with one of my advisors early on in this process: he said, 'I've been in this town a long time. I think this is the year we're gonna get healthcare done. But I guarantee you this will be pronounced dead at least four or five times before we finally get a bill passed.'"
KROFT: You're not getting much support from the Republicans and you've got some problems with people in your own party. Do you have enough votes to get a healthcare bill passed right now?
OBAMA: I believe that we will have enough votes to pass not just any healthcare bill, but a good healthcare bill that helps the American people, reduces costs, actually over the long-term controls our deficit. I'm confident that we've got that. Now, you're right.
So far we haven't gotten much cooperation from Republicans. And I think there're some who see this as a replay of 1993-94. You know, young president comes in, proposes healthcare. It crashes and burns and then the Republicans use that to win back the House in the subsequent election. And I think there are some people who are dusting off that playbook. In terms of the Democratic Party, they all understand we have to make this happen. We're not gonna get a better opportunity to solve our healthcare issues than we have right now. And that's why I'm confident that in the end we will get this done.
KROFT: One of the things that you said when you ran for president was that one of your talents was to be able to get people in a room with divergent opinions who were…yelling and screaming at each other. Get them to sit down and come to an agreement. Have you tried that on healthcare?
OBAMA: Yeah. Well, we tried very early on.
KROFT: Why hasn't it worked?
OBAMA: Well, I think right now, you've got just a political environment where there are those in the Republican Party who think the best thing to do is just to kill reform. That that will be good politics. And then there are some people who sincerely wanna see somethin' done, but have very different views and what I've tried to do is to make sure those in the latter category who don't just wanna kill something but actually wanna get somethin' done, that we are bringing them in and as open to their ideas as possible.
So for example, you know, tort reform. That's not something that historically has been popular in my party. But on Wednesday I specifically said that I think we can work together on a bipartisan basis to do something to reduce defensive medicine. Where doctors are worrying about lawsuits instead of worrying about patient care.