Updated: 11:40 a.m.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), the outspoken House liberal who opposed passage of health care reform last year, announced Wednesday morning that he will support an overhaul the chamber is expected to vote on later this week.
“I know I have to make a decision, not on the bill as I would like to see it, but the bill as it is,” he said. “If my vote is to be counted, let it now count for passage of the bill, hopefully in the direction of comprehensive health care reform.”
The Cleveland Democrat’s announcement Wednesday morning came after heavy pressure from the White House. President Barack Obama personally met with Kucinich four times, most recently on Monday, when he lobbied him on a trip to Ohio and twice called him out in a speech there.
“The moment of decision, and what he felt was at stake for our nation and for the hopes to make any kind of change down the road gave me more to think about,” Kucinich said of his last talk with the president.
Kucinich had been a caucus of one in opposing reform because it was not liberal enough. Former Rep. Eric Massa (N.Y.), the embattled lawmaker who resigned his seat last week, was the only other Democrat — of 39 who lined up against the House bill in November — to oppose the package for similar reasons.
Democratic leaders are still working to secure 216 votes to clear a health care overhaul and have not yet settled on the procedure for passage. But the Kucinich announcement gives leaders a much-needed boost as they wrangle with final details and try to beat back intense Republican criticism of both the substance of the package and the procedural maneuver the majority is eyeing to pass it. “If I can vote for this bill, there are not many people who shouldn’t be able to support it,” Kucinich said.
The lawmaker has been a consistent critic of the administration, blasting its Afghanistan policy and opposing two top administration priorities — cap-and-trade legislation and financial regulatory reform — as inadequate. And on health care, Kucinich has been a stalwart advocate for a single-payer system, a proposal Democrats never seriously considered and denied a vote on the House floor. But Kucinich said his decision was motivated in part by “a real desire for our president to succeed. We have to look at what’s going on in this country. One of the things that has bothered me is the attempt to try to delegitimize his presidency. That hurts the nation when that happens. He was elected. And even though … I’ve had some serious differences of opinion with the administration, this is a defining moment for whether or not we’ll have any opportunity to move off square one on the issue of health care.”