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Obama Urges Democrats to 'Fight Back' Against GOP Attack Plan

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 5 Jan 2011
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 5 Jan 2011

President Barack Obama and administration officials are pushing back against Republicans who formally took majority control of the House of Representatives on Wednesday pledging to roll back one of President Obama's key legislative victories.

As the 112th session of Congress convened on Capitol Hill, with Republicans holding a 242 to 193 majority, but with Democrats still in charge in the U.S Senate, President Obama's spokesman and other administration officials talked about what they call the dangers of overturning key aspects of health care reform.

Republicans are embarking on an initial agenda ahead of Mr. Obama's State of the Union Address later this month to challenge the historic reforms approved when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.

In accepting the gavel as the new Speaker of the House, from Democrat Nancy Pelosi, Ohio Republican John Boehner, spoke about ending "business as usual" on Capitol Hill, which he said Americans voted for in the November mid-term elections.

"No longer can we fall short," said Boehner. "No longer can we kick the can down the road. The people voted to end business as usual and today we begin to carry out their instructions."

President Obama had no public events on Wednesday. But in a message posted on the social media network Twitter, he said Republicans are determined to roll back progress, beginning with health care reform, and urged Democrats to "fight back."

At the White House news briefing, spokesman Robert Gibbs suggested again that Republicans run political risks in challenging key provisions of the health care reform law, such as protection for people with pre-existing medical conditions, that polls show Americans support.

"I don't think that the American people want to go back to a health care system where those safety nets are in doubt, and that is what the law is," said Gibbs.

Gibbs said he does not anticipate that President Obama will use his powerful media pulpit to address the American people on the importance of preserving the health care law, but that Mr. Obama will be speaking out strongly as the debate with Republicans, and implementation of the law, continue.

Also part of the administration's push back, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius penned a newspaper commentary saying Republican plans would slam the breaks on progress made in expanding health care to millions of Americans.

Gibbs himself was the center of the other big news of the day, with confirmation of his long-anticipated departure at some point next month from the press secretary's position to serve as an outside political consultant, with a role advising President Obama's campaign for re-election in 2012.

Other key announcements will be made on Friday about changes in the president's economic team, likely to include a replacement for Larry Summers, the outgoing chairman of the National Economic Council.

Gibbs said his departure, as well as that of presidential advisor David Axelrod, and an expected announcement of a permanent chief of staff, are part of a process of bringing fresh perspectives to the White House.

For a president, and White House staff, that have often been the focus of criticism over the past two years over weaknesses in political communication, Gibbs said there will be "continuity" in messaging by the new team.