Angst Over Health Law Leaves Obama, Democrats In Congress Divided

The strains caused by the botched Affordable Care Act roll out have made the president's already challenging relationships with Congress even more problematic.

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The troubled rollout of the ACA has also shaken relations between the White House and congressional Democrats. For more on that we're joined by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson at the White House.

Hey there, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: So this isn't just about Darrel Issa stirring up anger, right? I guess Democrats genuinely worry that this rollout has hurt them heading into 2014, as Don just mentioned. So where do things stand?

LIASSON: Well, I think there's a tremendous amount of anger and frustration and dismay on the part of Democrats that this rollout has been handled the way it has. This is one time where the blame can be put completely at the feet of the White House. Democrats feel that they followed the talking points and they went forward. So for the most part, however, Democrats have been keeping their complaints private.

And even the number of defections that you saw among House Democrats on the vote a couple of weeks ago, 39 Democrats broke with the White House, are not as bad as they could've been. But going forward, Democrats are worried about other troubles: what happens if rates go up, sticker shock, what happens if employers dump their employees onto the exchanges, then I think you could see the unity really dissolve and Democrats head for the hills.

CORNISH: So what, if anything, can the White House do to repair this?

LIASSON: The White House has to meet the big deadline that it has set for itself at the end of this week. And today, a White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, repeated that deadline again, saying that he's very confident that the majority of people will be having a positive experience with the website by the end of November. And Democrats in Congress reaction to those assurances are along the lines of we'll believe when we see it.

They do feel burned. They went out and they repeated the White House talking points: If you like your plan you can keep it. And ironically, as one Democratic senator explained it, that was a rare bit of Democratic message discipline that came back to haunt them.

CORNISH: So what would make Democrats feel better?

LIASSON: I think that the Healthcare.gov exchanges have to work better. And it has to translate into a more overall positive view of Obamacare. That is what will help endangered Democrats like North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan, who has seen her reelect tumble since the Obamacare website debuted.

The fate of red state Senate Democratic incumbents at this point seems to be very closely tied to the public view of Obamacare, and the public view of the president -whose numbers have been tumbling. He's now seen as not honest and trustworthy by a majority of people in the most recent CNN poll. And midterm elections closely track views of the president.

CORNISH: So how does this affect the rest of the president's agenda?

LIASSON: Well, I think it means there will be less reflexive trust on the part of Democrats. They're not going to be as willing to go out on a limb for the president on different issues. But I think the good news is that there's not anything coming up that the president is asking Democrats in Congress to do something that is politically risky.

The Iran deal is a small exception. There are Democrats that are skeptical about it. But all the White House is doing right now is asking Democrats to give the deal a chance for the next six months, see if it works before they vote to increase sanctions on Iran. They're not asking them to take a vote to roll back sanctions anytime soon.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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