POLITICS

Obama blamed speechwriter for anti-Pharma talk

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney

President Obama's pretend war on "special interests" has been laid bare by emails between the White House and the drug lobby that have just been made public.

In one case, after Obama threw a rhetorical punch at the drug industry, his top aide -- and now campaign manager -- Jim Messina assured drug lobbyists that the President didn't really mean it.

"I understand that some will try to delay action until the special interests can kill it," President Obama intoned in a July 21, 2009, Rose Garden speech.  Later Obama got a bit more specific about these bad guys: "They would maintain a system that works for the insurance and the drug companies, while becoming increasingly unaffordable for families and for businesses."

But at the time, the drug industry was on board with Obama's health-care "reform." Industry lobbyists had cut a deal with the White House, some new details of which my colleague Phil Klein reports today, and had pledged millions to support not only the bill, but lawmakers who voted for it.

So, when Obama fired that salvo at the drug industry, drug lobbyists were pissed.

"We're trying to kill it?" Republican Pfizer lobbyist Anthony Principi asked in an email to his industry colleagues. "I guess we didn't give enough in contributions and media ads supporting hcr [health-care reform]."

Bryant Hall, the senior lobbyist at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry's main lobby, wrote back to assure the group of drugmaker lobbyists that Obama didn't mean it.

"Billy and I were at WH today," Hall wrote, referring to PhRMA President Billy Tauzin. "We raised this issue with Jim Messina. Jim said that he went into the Oval [Office] and talked to the President .... 'Why was this in the sppech [sic]?' Obama said 'I was wondering the same.' Attributed to young speechwriter."

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel then entered the Oval Office and provided more assurance for Hall. 

According to Hall's email, Emanuel "said very positive things about what we [the drug lobby] were doing and said "I know you are swimming in different waters. I take personal responsibility for that error. As you know, this is out of character for what the President has been saying since we made our deal."

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UPDATE, 1:45 PM: Here's some context for Principi's sarcastic email:

Obama raised $2.33 million from the industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Not only was that the most any politician ever raised from the industry, it was more nearly three times John McCain's drug-industry haul. Principi's boss, Pfizer CEO Jeffrey Kindler had given $5,000 to the Obama Victory Fund.

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