Former Obama Aides Lead Opposition to Health Care Repeal

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Andrew M. Slavitt, the former head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, has been trolling Republicans over health care on Twitter, posting hundreds of tweets each week that attack their proposals as meanspirited and wrong.

Kathleen Sebelius, Mr. Obama’s first secretary of health and human services, will soon embark on a monthlong bus tour designed to pressure members of Congress to oppose the health care law’s repeal.

And a few blocks from the Capitol, a political war room run by Leslie Dach, one of Mr. Obama’s top health care officials, is coordinating a nationwide anti-repeal campaign by liberal think tanks, local “resistance” groups, sympathetic governors, medical and insurance lobbyists, Democratic activists, polling experts and academics.

Conceived in the hours after Mr. Trump was elected in November, the group, called Protect Our Care, is at the heart of the effort to oppose a repeal. It hosts strategy calls at 8:30 and 9:45 every morning to develop talking points, plan TV ads and discuss the latest vote counts from the House and Senate.

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Kathleen Sebelius, Mr. Obama’s first secretary of Health and Human Services, will soon embark on a monthlong bus tour designed to pressure members of Congress to oppose the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Credit
Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

“The most important thing is that people understand what repeal means for them,” Mr. Dach said. “And what repeal means is millions losing their insurance, costs going up, not down, and anxiety coming back in their lives.”

The Obama aides have helped direct about $6 million toward television ads by Save My Care, a separate group in Washington.

The aides insist they are just one part of a broader liberal network that has been organically animated by anger about the Republican efforts to repeal the health care law. But they bring years of experience to the political fight, and their efforts have not gone unnoticed.

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In late February, Mr. Trump accused his predecessor of being the hidden hand behind town hall meetings where angry citizens accused lawmakers of trying to take away their health care. “I think that President Obama is probably behind it, because his people are certainly behind it,” Mr. Trump told Fox News at the time.

In fact, the former president has made only a few public comments on the repeal effort, once using Facebook to denounce “the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.” His current advisers say Mr. Obama has had little direct involvement in managing the day-to-day campaign, though he is regularly briefed on the subject.

His former aides have taken a more active role.

Anita Dunn, Mr. Obama’s onetime communications director, is helping to spread the anti-repeal message, placing opinion articles in newspapers and distributing letters, including one from a group representing 7,000 Catholic nuns who oppose repealing the health law.

Meaghan R. Smith, who served as the communications director at the Department of Health and Human Services under Mr. Obama, and Lori Lodes, who was the spokeswoman at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, have become the de facto press secretaries for the effort, working to influence stories written by political and health care reporters.

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And Kristie Canegallo, who was Mr. Obama’s deputy chief of staff for policy implementation, is directing frequent strategy sessions with the opposition leadership. She has essentially reprised her White House role as the logistics person responsible for ensuring that a sprawling bureaucracy stayed on task as the health care law went into effect.

Ms. Canegallo’s conference calls have continued almost nonstop, even while she was on vacation in Australia, according to one participant.

“We’ve had a simple goal from the beginning, which is to stop the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, to protect Medicaid,” Mr. Dach said in an interview this week.

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Andrew M. Slavitt, the former head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, testified on Capitol Hill in 2013. Mr. Slavitt has used Twitter as a weapon against repeal efforts.

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Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Part of that strategy involved a public effort to broadly portray the Republican repeal effort as a threat to people’s existing health care choices.

Mr. Slavitt’s tweets are revered among Obama alumni for their sharp edges. Last week, when the Congressional Budget Office released its latest estimate of the effects of the Republican bill, Mr. Slavitt did not mince words.

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“NEW CBO is out a disaster,” he tweeted. “22 million people lose coverage insurance markets die.”

Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to Mr. Obama; Tommy Vietor, one of his national security spokesmen; and Jon Favreau and Jon Lovett, his speechwriters; have used their popular podcast, “Pod Save America,” to regularly rail against the Republican repeal effort.

Among the episode titles: “Kill Bill Vol. 2.”

But the campaign against repeal is also more targeted, aimed directly at a handful of Republican senators who have expressed concern about the effects that scrapping the Affordable Care Act could have on their poorest constituents.

In an opinion article about the Republican repeal effort, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. warned that it would lead to “a massive cut in Medicaid” and have a “dramatic impact” on budgets. Aimed at Senator Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican, the article appeared in The Reno Gazette-Journal.

After Mr. Heller and Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, voted on Tuesday to open debate on repealing the health law, Save My Care released television ads on Wednesday chiding both of them.

“Senator Capito just broke her promise by casting the deciding vote to repeal our health care,” the narrator says. “Because of Capito, over 100,000 West Virginians could lose their insurance.”

That vote marked a setback in the battle to save Mr. Obama’s legacy. But in the hours since, the opposition campaign has celebrated a bit. Votes on several variations of repeal legislation failed to pass the Republican-controlled Senate on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Still, the former aides to Mr. Obama said they did not intend to drop their guard. When a repeal bill failed to pass in the House in March, they relaxed their efforts, only to see the legislation roar back to life a few weeks later.

“The lesson here is eternal vigilance,” Ms. Dunn said. “We all prematurely celebrated after the first House vote. Until we can control one body, we can’t afford to walk away.”

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