“This shutdown isn’t about spending or deficit or budgets,” Obama said. “This shutdown is about rolling back our efforts to provide health insurance to folks who don’t have it. This, more than anything else, seems to be what the Republican Party stands for these days.”
The president’s remarks came shortly after noon EDT in the Rose Garden, as the White House went into a partial shutdown along with the rest of the federal government.
Federal agencies are under orders to close down all but essential functions after Congress hit a stalemate over funding government operations, with a critical faction of Republicans fighting to stop the Affordable Care Act from taking effect on Tuesday as scheduled.
White House employees were among the more than 800,000 federal workers sent home Tuesday as agency managers put in place contingency plans for an indefinite shutdown.
As Obama met with uninsured Americans in the Oval Office on one end of the West Wing, furloughed employees exited the White House on the other end.
A midlevel staffer took over the job of announcing Obama’s imminent arrival in the Rose Garden. Managers in charge of Obama’s upcoming Asia trip scrambled to complete planning tasks before the exodus led to the departure of their support staff.
In the Rose Garden, Obama did a microphone check before speaking.
The federal healthcare website, www.healthcare.gov, was running slow Tuesday morning, Obama reported, attributing the lag to heavy use, saying “more than a million people” had looked at it before 7 a.m. EDT The website had five times more users in the same timeframe than the Medicare site has ever had, he said.
No one expects Apple to quit selling its products when it has a glitch, the president noted. “That’s not how we do things in America,” he said, as a dozen uninsured Americans stood behind him, sweating in the sun. One of them has a brain tumor, he said. Another has multiple sclerosis.
“These are the Americans you hurt,” Obama said, addressing Republican members of Congress.
As he walked back into the Oval Office with the group, a gray-haired woman stopped him for a hug, a kiss, and then another hug.