President Obama is still holding back on firing anyone for the disastrous first two months of the Obamacare roll-out and instead is adding key staff to help steer a smoother course next year.
While critics are still calling for heads to roll, some Republicans say Obama's decision to bring in two well-known Washington players to help right the ship shows he's serious about shaking up his second-term strategy and execution.
Senators on both sides of the aisle are praising the prospect of Obama tapping veteran Democratic strategist John Podesta, a former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton.
This week, Obama also convinced his former chief congressional lobbyist, Phil Schiliro, to come back for a second tour aimed at helping the administration recover from the botched health care roll-out.
“That's one of the smartest decisions the president has made recently,” Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who serves as the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, told the Washington Examiner. “They're both heavyweights when it comes to Democratic politics.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., readily agreed.
“At the end of the day, new people will bring new energy and [Podesta and Schiliro] have a portfolio of getting things done. They're well-respected in town.”
In a town greased by relationships, Obama has run into trouble over the years for refusing to play the political game and reach out to lawmakers on a regular basis, and in doing so build political capital he can use at crucial moments. As he tries to rebuild public support and credibility after the botched Obamacare roll-out and refocus his second-term agenda, friends and allies on Capitol Hill will be more important than ever.
Schiliro, who served as the president's chief congressional liaison between January 2009 and January 2011, moved to New Mexico and started a consulting business for nonprofits after leaving the White House. Obama is now luring him back to help foresee and prevent future implementation problems with the health care law.
A longtime former aide to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who spent a quarter century on Capitol Hill and has strong ties to Democratic members, Schiliro also will try to head off more Democratic defections during a critical midterm election year.
Over the last few years, the president's legislative affairs team has lowered its profile on Capitol Hill. As the Examiner reported in early October, many Democrats and Republicans alike don't know and can't identify Miguel Rodriguez, Obama's top liaison to Congress, because he spends so little time walking the marble hallways.
Podesta, who chairs the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress, and Schiliro, need no introductions in legislative circles. Both served stints with Tom Daschle of South Dakota when he was the Senate Democratic leader, and helped lead Obama's transition team in 2008.
Podesta also served as Clinton's chief of staff during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and is known as a skilled manager. As a party elder, political observers say Podesta may also be able to give Obama some straight talk.
“What John Podesta will bring to this White House – he will really be able to give the president the unvarnished truth,” said Richard Benedetto, a former White House correspondent for USA Today who teaches journalism for American University. "He's a very strong Democratic partisan but at the same time he understands the game.”
“He'll probably be the guy when you've got bad news, to tell him and he'll take care of it from there.”
A top priority will be trying to calm nervous Democrats worried about losing their seats and control of the Senate majority come November.
They have their work cut out for them. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from the red state of West Virginia, said he thinks bringing in Podesta and Schiliro is a smart move, but he's still pushing several proposals that would alter or delay key parts of the health care law.
“We've got to continue to work to improve it,” he told the Examiner. “I know they're people who are into repealing it – I am into repairing it. I'd like to give every effort I can to fix it.”