Did Obama “hijack” tech summit over NSA snooping to pitch ObamaCare?
posted at 2:41 pm on December 18, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
After months of increasing criticism over the NSA’s activities in on-line surveillance and the impact it has had on American Internet service providers, the White House arranged to have a summit meeting with executives to air out their issues. Once in the room with Obama, though, some participants complained to the Daily Mail’s David Martosko that the President “hijacked” the meeting to make a pitch for ObamaCare:
During a White House meeting called to brief America’s largest tech companies today about government overreach in electronic surveillance, President Barack Obama changed the subject – angering some meeting participants by shifting gears to address the failed launch of healthcare.gov.
‘That wasn’t what we came for,’ a vice-president of a company whose CEO attended told MailOnline. ‘We really didn’t care for a PR pitch about how the administration is trying to salvage its internal health care tech nightmare.’
One executive said that meeting participants were dead-set against straying from the principal focus of the meeting – the uncomfortable and legally untenable position they are in when the National Security Agency demands access to their digital records. …
‘He basically hijacked the meeting,’ the executive said. ‘We all told the White House that we were only there to talk about what the NSA was up to and how it affects us.’
Hijacked isn’t exactly the correct term here, in part because — as Martosko notes — the White House had informed the group that the Healthcare.gov website would be on the agenda. In fact, the Guardian reported that the executives planned to “push back” against Obama’s attempts to change the subject even before the meeting began:
Senior executives from the companies whose bosses were present at the meeting said they were determined to keep the discussion focused on the NSA, despite the White House declaring in advance that it would focus on ways of improving the functionality of the troubled health insurance website, healthcare.gov, among other matters.
“That is not going to happen,” said an executive at one of the major tech companies represented at the meeting. “We are there to talk about the NSA,” said the executive, who was briefed on the company’s agenda before the event.
An executive at another company present at the White House on Tuesday described any other issues as “peripheral”. The executive, who also declined to be named in order to discuss his company’s strategy, said: “There’s only one subject that people really want to discuss right now.”
The ObamaCare plea was basically the sponsorship of the meeting — an ad that gave the execs top-level access to demand that the NSA curtail its activities. That’s a rather small price to pay, although the exact amount of that price is a little ambiguous. According to Martosko, Obama repeatedly returned to the subject of the disaster at HHS, but Valerie Jarrett told Politico today that 99% of the meeting was focused on surveillance issues:
White House adviser Valerie Jarrett denied a report that President Obama “hijacked” his meeting with technology executives Tuesday to discuss ObamaCare, saying that the president and technology executive spent “99 percent” of the meeting discussing concerns about government surveillance programs.
The Daily Mailreported that some participants at the meeting were upset that the president used the meeting to discuss issues surrounding the botched rollout of his signature healthcare law.
“That wasn’t what we came for,” said the vice-president of a company whose CEO attended to the paper. “We really didn’t care for a PR pitch about how the administration is trying to salvage its internal healthcare tech nightmare.”
But Jarrett insisted that President Obama initiated the conversation about the National Security Agency surveillance programs, which mine databases from technology companies like Google, Facebook and Yahoo.
“I don’t think there was a disconnect at all,” she said at a Politico breakfast.
I suspect that the time spent on ObamaCare PR probably exceeded 1% by a substantial amount. However, it’s curious that Obama brought it up at all, except as an utterly futile attempt at a change of subject. By the time the meeting took place, Obama had already hired Microsoft’s Kurt DelBene to take charge of the debacle at HHS. Why, then, did he feel the need to hit up the executives for more discussion of the problems plaguing the central “accomplishment” of the Obama presidency? That sounds as though Obama is as confident in a solution with DelBene at the helm as the rest of us were with Jeffrey Zients declaring that he would make the portal “fully functional” by December 1st.
At any rate, that’s hardly a hijacking. It’s more a cry for help.