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Obama Offers ‘Pep Talk’ to Senate Democrats

Updated: 4:30 p.m.Senate Democrats emerged from a meeting with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden on Sunday afternoon still mired in intraparty disagreements over health care reform legislation but committed to resolving their differences before Christmas Day. Obama was on Capitol Hill as the Senate, in a rare weekend session, was voting on amendments to Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) $848 billion health care package. “It wasn’t a negotiation, it was a pep talk,— the president said of the hourlong closed-door meeting.Senators confirmed that the president didn’t discuss policy matters or provide direction on the key issues dividing the Democratic Conference, such as abortion and the public insurance option.Instead, he encouraged Democrats to keep their eye on the ball and do something historic, saying the country would be better off and the voters would credit them if they did.“Based on the politics of it, for 2010, if we succeed, the American public will reward us, because basically the American public wants us to do what’s right. They don’t live inside the Beltway,— Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) described Obama as saying. “This is why we came here. This is why we hired out for these jobs.—Reid in a brief news conference said the president pledged to work with Senate Democrats in any way that he can. The Majority Leader conceded that liberals and moderates within his conference are still at odds with each other over key issues, but he said the two factions were working toward a consensus.Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a leading centrist, said an amendment he plans to offer that would ban the use of federal funds for abortions might be introduced on Monday, and Reid said in remarks on the Senate floor following the caucus with Obama that the vote on the proposal could be held the same day.“There’s still a few things we have to work out in the bill but issues are being narrowed as we speak,— Reid told reporters. “We’re working toward a consensus — we’re not there — but we understand how important it is we arrive at consensus and we’re going to do that just as quickly as we can.—Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) said the president stressed the historic nature of the vote but acknowledged the political realities many Members are facing.Asked why it was important for Obama to speak to the caucus during a rare weekend session, Menendez said, “We’re very close [to the end of the debate] and I think he wanted to let people know that ‘you’ve been working really hard. I know that … there’s a universe out there that’s trying to beat you all up. I know the other side doesn’t want to be helpful, but I want you to not lose sight of the importance of what this means.’—“The message was very simple — he reminded us why we’re here,— added Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “He reminded us why we run for office, and he reminded us how many people are counting on us to come through.—Emily Pierce and Jessica Brady contributed to this report.

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