In ways they’ve never discussed before, senior administration officials now admit they feared late last fall that the entire law might collapse under the weight of Democratic defections and aggressive Republican calls for repeal. The mathematics of veto-proof majorities always argued against repeal, but the nightmare of HealthCare.gov followed by the “political lie of the year” on individual insurance policies filled senior Obama advisers with Affordable Care Act existential dread.
Looking back on it now, senior officials heap praise on the triage team led by Jeffrey Zients that rebuilt the website. But they also proclaim with jut-jawed arrogance this unassailable and in retrospect vital political fact: Not one House or Senate Democrat ever backed repeal. That reality wasn’t always a sure thing. The party discipline on repeal reflects the tenacity of the Democrats who drove it through every legislative obstacle: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Obama made calls and held some hands. But Pelosi and Reid ran roughshod on the unsettled, herded the doubtful, and schooled the unwitting in the gruesome politics of punishing traitors.