According to meeting schedules obtained by The Hill through the Freedom of Information Act, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius met with or spoke with President Obama 18 times in the year leading up to Healthcare.gov's (failure to) launch. During seven of those meetings, the two were set to discuss the new health care law. Sebelius also met several times with Obama's closest advisors, all leading to the question: how did the president not know Healthcare.gov was a looming disaster?
The Hill argues that, "the schedules suggest Sebelius was an active White House presence in the months leading up to the botched rollout, and raise new questions about why Obama wouldn’t have known about the problems that were exposed on Oct. 1." Sebelius has said that Obama did not know that the site would be a disaster when it launched, and Obama has said he certainly wouldn't have gone around saying "it'll be great" if he'd known it wouldn't.
This is being treated like an exposé, especially by detractors of the health care law. "Exposed," tweeted Accuracy in Media Chairman Don Irvine. "Despite acting oblivious, President Obama was well briefed on Obamacare's failings pre-launch," wrote Rory Cooper, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's communication's director. "UNSURPRISING: looks like more proof #obama lied about knowing about #obamacare disaster," wrote conservative talk show host Vicki McKenna.
Also causing a stir is The Hill's report that Sebelius met with several reporters leading up to the launch, and even had coffee with Ezra Klein, formerly of The Washington Post's Wonkblog, and now working on a "Project X." Some also see this as evidence of the government cozying up to the (mainstream, liberal) media:
Sebelius was cozy with Ezra Klein and other liberal reporters before Obamacare launch http://t.co/oGkSapIbrb— Charlie Spiering (@charliespiering) February 13, 2014
And at least one reporter will point to coffee date bias in the media is Sebelius' meetings with Obama aren't front page news. "Christie-like problem requires brutal media frenzy. Place your bets!" tweeted Breitbart reporter John Nolte. Josh Kraushaar at National Journal also compared this to Bridgegate:
Obama's Christie-like problem: New docs raise serious doubt that Obama knew nothing abt OCare probs, as he claimed http://t.co/OuqEEszFz2— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) February 13, 2014
And the similarities are there. Both Christie and Obama blamed these major problems on the failure of their subordinates to keep them up-to-date. Both chose to be incompetent instead of guilty (in Obama's case, guilty of knowingly launching a bad site). And in both cases the media is trying to figure out whether they're telling to truth, as both repeat that they didn't know what was going on. With Obama, we know that Sebelius, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services head Marilyn Tavenner, and White House chief technology officer Todd Park were all warned by a private contractor in April that the site might not work on time, as CNN reported.
At a hearing on October 30, however, Sebelius said that she didn't know the contractors wanted to delay the launch of the site. The week before, contractors CGI Federal and Quality Software Solutions Inc. said they'd informed Tavenner's office of the need to delay. So while these newly reported meetings are more proof the president should have known his project was struggling, there also seems to be a trend of ensuring plausible deniability.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.