President Obama is often criticized for his leadership style. Andrew Sullivan wrote about the criticism from the left and the right in his piece from January 2012 entitled “How Obama’s Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics.” That article is still well worth a read today, particularly in light of this commentary about the Affordable Care Act’s disastrous roll out and Obama’s response:
Why Obama Fired No One Over Botched Roll Out
Having survived a bungled launch of the Obamacare website last year, President Obama’s Rose Garden victory lap yesterday “ended a telling chapter in Obama’s approach to presidential leadership,” National Journal reports.
“During the darkest days of the website meltdown, Obama made it clear to those who asked that it was crucial for him not to fire any high-ranking administration officials. Sebelius and McDonough both reasonably feared they would be shown the door.”
“Holding a maligned, self-doubting team together in moments of peril is too often oversimplified by the phrase ‘No Drama Obama.’ It’s more complex than that. Obama has convinced himself that scaring people with a ceremonial firing deepens fear, turns allies against one another, makes them risk-averse, and saps productivity. At no time was this distillation of presidential power put to more strenuous administration-wide test.”
As others have pointed out, there was another factor in keeping Sebelius and McDonough in place: the current political climate means it would have been impossible for their replacements to be confirmed. This would have left these critical departments leaderless while in crisis. In a strange way, the Republican philosophy of obstructionism actually assisted Obama’s long game. He didn’t want to fire Sebelius and McDonough and knowing they could not be replaced made it easier to keep them.
On the contrary, if the Republicans could have successfully pushed them out, they would have vastly reduced the capacity of the administration to respond to these challenges. The whole confirmation process for Sebelius’ replacement would have been a circus while HHS waited for a new secretary. Once confirmed, they would have lost valuable time getting that person up to speed. This, combined with the implementation challenges of the ACA, might actually have been disruptive enough to force democrats to abandon ship.
Instead, Obama never even acknowledged the calls for Sebelius to resign. He helped her find the resources needed to fix Healthcare.gov and they ultimately accomplished their original goal, despite losing 2+ months due to the launch meltdown.
TL;DR: Add the ACA as another achievement to Obama’s long game strategy. ‘No Drama Obama’ wins again.