In the embrace of loyal supporters at twin Beverly Hills fundraisers, President Obama on Monday night defended his troubled healthcare plan and cast his administration as one that has defended “those ideas that built this country.”
“When I talk about the Affordable Care Act, all the fighting that we’ve been having to do, it’s not just a matter of dollars and cents and why it’s good for the economy to make sure that people aren’t going to the emergency rooms because that’s the most expensive care, and why the only way we’re going to lower healthcare costs over the long term is if we start delivering healthcare smarter,” Obama said at a reception at the home of former Lakers star and entrepreneur Magic Johnson and his wife, Cookie.
“It’s also a values question. Do we want to live in a country, as wealthy as we are, where if somebody gets sick they lose their home, they go bankrupt, they have to weigh ‘can I go right now to the emergency room knowing that that may mean I can’t pay for my child’s school tuition?’ That’s not the country I want to live in, and that’s not the country you want to live in, which means we’ve got to fight for it.”
Obama also put climate change and immigration reform, among other issues, under the umbrella of values.
“We know what works, and what’s stopping us is a failure of our politics and a lack of ambition, and we shy away from what might be hard,” he said. “And our politics all too often encourages people to think selfishly or short-term. And that’s what the debate in Washington is about and that’s what the debate in this country generally is about right now.”
He said that he was “absolutely sure” that the country would ultimately provide affordable healthcare to all — “and if I have to fight for another three years to make sure that happens, I will do so.”
Later, Obama spoke at a dinner at the nearby home of entertainment mogul Haim Saban — all part of a two-day California visit, which started early Monday in San Francisco with fundraisers and one public event at which he pressed Congress to move forward with an immigration bill.
The trip concludes Tuesday with a third Southern California fundraiser for Democrats and an entertainment industry appearance at Dreamworks Animation in Glendale, the firm run by longtime Obama fundraiser Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Before the Monday night fundraisers, Obama met with relatives of TSA officer Gerardo Hernandez, who was killed in a shooting rampage at LAX on Nov. 1. He also met with Tony Grigsby and James Speer, two TSA officers wounded that day.
Obama’s foray into California brought him to a strongly Democratic state that was not initially in his corner — much of the state’s fundraising prowess was arrayed on behalf of his party rival Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2008 campaign — but which has come to be one of his most loyal constituencies.
The two Monday night events benefited the joint House and Senate campaign committee for Democratic candidates, as did the gatherings in the Bay Area. Tickets for the event at the Johnson home ranged from $2,500 to $15,000 per person. The dinner hosted by Saban and his wife, Cheryl, cost $16,200 per person.
Johnson, one of those who had initially supported Clinton, introduced Obama as “the greatest leader in the world” and the president returned the favor, calling Johnson “the prince of this city.” He praised not only Johnson’s athletic feats but also his business acumen and his handling of the HIV diagnosis that cut short his basketball career. (Johnson is now part of the ownership team for the Dodgers.)
“Nobody played a team game better than he did,” Obama said of Johnson. “And that’s more than anything what we need right now in this country, a sense that we’re in this together and we’re pursuing this thing, this objective, an America that is more prosperous, more peaceful and is growing, together. That’s what we’re fighting for. … I’m very proud of the fact that those values are at the heart of the Democratic Party.”
The second event of the night put more focus on the new, and fragile, international agreement to weaken sanctions against Iran in exchange for that country’s rollback of parts of its nuclear program.
“We’re out of Iraq, we’re out of Afghanistan and the military and intelligence cooperation with Israel — our staunchest ally in the Middle East, arguably in the world — has never been deeper and the president’s commitment to Israel’s security has never been stronger,” Saban said. “And if the Iranians are at the negotiating table today, make no mistake about it, it is only as a result of President Obama’s resolve in striking down the most strict sanctions ever.”
Obama took up the subject, saying his administration had exchanged “a lot of bluster” for “a plan” on Iran.
“Iran was moving rapidly at building its nuclear capacity. And so with the help of members of Congress, including the members that are here today, we constructed the toughest set of sanctions ever, and we organized laboriously over the course of two years around the world, cooperation not just from allies, but also in some cases from folks who were very reluctant to apply sanctions: Russia, China,” Obama said.
“And we mobilized international unity around saying Iran had to meet its international responsibilities. And as a consequence of the strength of those sanctions, and the painstaking diplomacy that we engaged in, Iran ultimately came to the table and said, ‘We are prepared in a serious way to negotiate around our nuke program,’ for the first time in over a decade.”
Obama insisted that he would not “take any options off the table” when it came to defending the United States or its allies — a statement that seemed intended to blunt Israeli concerns about the agreement.
But, he added, “I’ve spent too much time at Walter Reed looking at kids 22, 23, 24, 25 years old, who’ve paid the kind of price that very few of us in this room can imagine on behalf of our freedom, not to say that I’m going to do every single thing that I can to try to resolve these issues without resorting to military conflict. And that’s what you should expect from me as president of the United States. That’s what the times demand. This is not politics. These are not games, and the stakes are extraordinarily high.”
Among those at the events were an array of Hollywood figures — Samuel L. Jackson and Diane Keaton among them — and members of Congress, including Democratic leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada.