RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. While many Americans are enjoying a four-day holiday this weekend, computer programmers have been working furiously to meet a White House deadline to improve the government's troubled Affordable Care Act website. As of today, most of the fixes were supposed to be done, meaning the site can handle as many as 50,000 users at once. In a press conference this morning, the administration declared victory. Here's Jeff Zeints of the White House.
JEFF ZEINTS: The bottom line, HealthCare.Gov on December 1st is night and day from where it was on October 1st.
MARTIN: NPR's Mara Liasson joins now to talk more about what's riding on this new and improved healthcare.gov. Good morning, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: Is this a victory?
LIASSON: Well, it's a victory of sorts. You heard Jeffrey Zeints say it's a huge improvement from October 1st. They're saying that the healthcare.gov website is now working as they promised it would, which is for 80 percent of users - which they define as the vast majority of users - it is working properly. They put out a fancy performance report with a lot of charts and graphs this morning to accompany their press conference, and when they listed the root causes of the problems - hundreds of bugs, poor monitoring, bad hardware, slow decision making, unclear accountability - that was quite a damning list. But they did decide that the site was fixable, they didn't have to go back and start it from scratch. But now they think that it is operating at its intended capacity.
MARTIN: So you and I have spoken before about the importance of all of this for the Obama administration. This is, after all, the president's signature policy. He needs this whole thing to work. Where is public at right now? Has the president been able to distance himself from all these technical problems of the website?
LIASSON: No, and I don't think the White House thinks he can - or should try. Public opinion is net-negative about the health care law; worse than it's ever been. The president's own approval ratings are down. And, you know, we've been focusing on the website, but what really hurt him was that he made the promise that if you liked your health plan, you could keep it. And then all sorts of people on individual plans got cancellation notices. As he puts it: I said something that turned out to be inaccurate.
That hurt him more than anything. And I would say that damage is more lasting than the website damage. The website will be fixed and is being fixed. His numbers on being honest and trustworthy are now net-negative. So that's a real problem. His relationships with Democrats in Congress are at an all-time low. Democratic donors are extremely disappointed. So this is very, very difficult for him, and the only way out is to not only get the website working, but get the health care law working and make sure that the right number and mix of people sign up.
MARTIN: Let's say all these fixes work; not the end of his political battles. What does he need to do next to turn around his presidency, really?
LIASSON: Well, he has to continue to push his agenda. He wants to pass immigration reform this year. I think that's going to be very, very difficult. He wants to get a budget agreement with Congress. He just has to keep on working, and as he puts it, he knows he has to work hard to rebuild credibility with the American public.
MARTIN: NPR senior political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you so much.
LIASSON: Thank you, Rachel.