CBS anchor Bob Schieffer allowed Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to push the discredited claim that health care website contractors were pressured to change an aspect of HealthCare.gov by the White House days after those contractors explicitly denied any pressure from administration officials.
On the October 27 edition of CBS' Face the Nation, Schieffer asked Issa about the purpose of congressional subpoenas from the House Oversight Committee, which Issa chairs. Issa responded by claiming contractors had admitted that White House officials pressured them to drop a tool that allowed exchange customers to get a price estimate before registering on the website. Issa's accusation was the shorter version of one he made earlier in the week, in which he claimed in a letter to the Office of Management and Budget, “We are concerned that the administration required contractors to change course late in the implementation process to conceal ObamaCare's effect on increasing health insurance premiums.”
Schieffer never pushed back on Issa's accusation, even though officials from the contractor, CGI Federal, denied any White House pressure to remove the tool from the website. A press release from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) pointed out that in congressional testimony, CGI senior vice president Cheryl Campbell refuted Issa's claims, testifying that she was not aware of any orders from the White House to remove the price estimate tool:
REP. [G.K.] BUTTERFIELD [D-NC]: Let me ask you this directly. Are Mr. Issa's allegations correct? Did the White House ever order your company for political reasons to mask the sticker shock of Obamacare by disabling this anonymous shopper function?
MS. CAMPBELL: So, let me answer two things. One, I don't believe that members of CGI actually made those statements directly in that manner. I think they may have been taken out of context, but I think I'd have to get back with confirmation of that. And, to my knowledge, no, the White House has not given us direct instructions.
REP. BUTTERFIELD: I would like to get that information from you. It's a very serious allegation for the Chairman of an Oversight Committee to make such a callous accusation. Based on the meeting with your company last week, Mr. Issa's letter wrote that, “evidence is mounting that political motivations motivated this decision.” Do you have any evidence, and you just alluded to it, do you have any evidence that political considerations motivated this decision?
MS. CAMPBELL: I'm not privy to anything of that sort.
REP. BUTTERFIELD: Do you have any knowledge of any White House role in specific decisions relating to the web site?
MS. CAMPBELL: Not to my knowledge.
REP. BUTTERFIELD: And are you aware of any political intervention by this White House relating to your work on Healthcare.gov?
MS. CAMPBELL: I am not.
Cummings and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) also responded to Issa's claim that CGI officials admitted to White House pressure in a meeting with congressional staff. In a letter to Issa, Cummings and Connolly pointed out that the accusation “appears to mix together news reports of questionable veracity with partial and incomplete descriptions of Committee briefings to create an unsubstantiated narrative that White House officials were making technical decisions based on political motivations”:
[Y]our letter omits a series of questions asked by Committee staff and answered by CGI officials that directly contradict your assertions. For example, in response to a question by Committee staff, CGI officials stated that they had no knowledge of any White House role in specific decisions relating to the website. CGI officials also stated that they had seen no evidence of political considerations affecting operational decisions about the website. And when asked if they were aware of any political intervention by anyone at the White House, CGI officials answered, “No, sir.”
Instead, CGI officials told Committee staff that they were well aware that effective implementation of the Affordable Care Act website is a top priority of the White House, and that CMS officials routinely stressed the importance of its proper functioning. Your letter appears to mix together news reports of questionable veracity with partial and incomplete descriptions of Committee briefings to create an unsubstantiated narrative that White House officials were making technical decisions based on political motivations.