Night After Slamming DeMint as 'Incendiary,' Couric Makes Same Point to Obama

A night after CBS slammed as “incendiary” Senator Jim DeMint's observation that if Republicans are able to block Obama's health care push, “it will be his Waterloo, it will break him,” CBS anchor Katie Couric adopted the same assumption as she expressed worry to the President: “Are you concerned at all that if health care reform fails it will be a huge and devastating setback to your presidency?”

Couric framed her Tuesday newscast through the prism of a “threat” to Obama's quest, teasing: “Tonight, the latest threat to health care reform: Squabbling among Democrats on Capitol Hill, and the stakes could not be higher for the Democrat in the White House.”

During her session at the White House with Obama excerpted on Tuesday's CBS Evening News, Couric pressed Obama to extend his deadline (“Is there any flexibility on this August deadline?” and “You'll have some flexibility on this deadline?), but she also hit him with mildly challenging questions, such as: “Do you think any illegal immigrant should be eligible for health care under the new plan?” And, though Obama made clear his disagreement with her premise: “If the stimulus plan isn't really working -- at least for now -- why should Americans sign off on spending billions of dollars on health care reform?”

Moving off health care, she reminded Obama “your administration projected that with the stimulus package, as you know, unemployment could be kept under 8 percent,” so she wondered, in absolving him of blame: “In the future when you make these projections and estimates and cost savings. I mean, it's a pretty dicey proposition, don't you think, to predict economics into the future?”

(Meanwhile, NBC advanced Obama's agenda as NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams set up a story: “Now a look at why advocates of health care reform say this nation desperately needs to change the way things are done right now. A big and growing proportion of personal bankruptcies in the country are tied to illness. And as NBC's Chris Jansing reports, even those who have insurance are not immune.”)

My Monday night NB item, “CBS Discredits Steele and DeMint on ObamaCare as 'Harsh' and 'Incendiary,' Couric Hails Kennedy,” recounted:

For the second weekday in a row, Katie Couric teased the CBS Evening News on Monday night by delivering President Obama's aggressive retorts to critics of his health plan as reporter Chip Reid pitched in to help, discrediting critics by disparaging their perspectives as “harsh” and “incendiary” attacks -- all before Couric caught up with ABC and NBC from the night before and promoted Ted Kennedy's “We're Almost There” Newsweek cover story.

Couric teased: “The President takes on critics of his health care reform plan. He vows to move forward and says trying to fix a system that's breaking American families.” (Friday night she touted “a warning from the President,” leading into Obama's claim: “If we don't get health care reform done now, then no one's health insurance is going to be secure.”)

Reid declared that “in some of his harshest comments yet, Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele said the President's plan for a public insurance option is socialism.” But this is all Steele said in the clip Reid played: “This reckless approach is an ill-conceived attempt to push through an experiment and all of us should be scared to death.” Reid continued: “In one of the most incendiary comments, Republican Senator Jim DeMint, in a conference call with conservative activists, recently said:” Viewers then heard audio of DeMint making a tactical political point: “If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”

From the Tuesday, July 21 CBS Evening News:

COURIC TEASED: Tonight, the latest threat to health care reform: Squabbling among Democrats on Capitol Hill, and the stakes could not be higher for the Democrat in the White House.
COURIC TO OBAMA: Are you concerned at all that if health care reform fails it will be a huge and devastating setback to your presidency?....

COURIC OPENED FROM WASHINGTON, DC: And good evening, everyone. We came here today to talk to the President in person about perhaps the biggest domestic challenge he's facing: health care reform. He's pressing the people who work behind me at the Capitol -- your Senators and Representatives -- to get it done and soon. But he's facing tough opposition and not just from Republicans. Now members of his own party are fighting among themselves. We begin our coverage tonight with Nancy Cordes on Capitol Hill....

COURIC SET UP HER RECORDED INTERVIEW: Conservative House Democrats who oppose the health care bill -- the so-called blue-dog Democrats -- met with President Obama at the White House today. Later, I talked one on one with the President and I asked him if they'd made any progress working out their differences.

Couric's questions, in the sequence aired on the CBS Evening News (CBSNews.com online text version with video, neither of which fully match what aired):

- But it's not going to add to the deficit?

- You've said that if Congress doesn't have a deadline, things don't get done in this town. But Democrats, like Kent Conrad, are also saying, quote, "Sometimes, when you move too quickly, you make mistakes." So is this really something you want to dig in your heels on? I mean, is there any flexibility on this August deadline?

- So if it's not [“better for the American people”], you'll have some flexibility on this deadline?

- Are you concerned at all that if health care reform fails it will be a huge and devastating setback to your presidency and may put some of the rest of your agenda in peril?

- Do you think any illegal immigrant should be eligible for health care under the new plan? [Obama: “No,” except for children.]

- Mr. President, if the stimulus plan isn't really working -- at least for now -- why should Americans sign off on spending billions of dollars on health care reform?

- Your administration projected that with the stimulus package, as you know, unemployment could be kept under 8 percent. Well that was then, this is now.

- Vice President Biden said you had, in fact, you had misread the economy, so who's to say  you're reading the tea leaves accurately now? [Obama: “Meaning what?”] In the future when you make these projections and estimates and cost savings. I mean, it's a pretty dicey proposition, don't you think, to predict economics into the future?
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center