Ohio Congressman and former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich today announced his support for health care reform. Kucinich was one of two progressives who voted against the legislation when it passed the House in November on the grounds that it didn’t go far enough towards the single payer system they supported. The other member was former Rep. Eric Massa.
Kucinich’s change of heart won’t bring along any other votes for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is struggling to reach the 216 needed to pass the bill. But his decision will give cover to liberals annoyed at having to vote for a bill that doesn’t include a robust public plan, bars illegal immigrants from purchasing health insurance on the exchange that would be formed to expand coverage to the nation’s 37 million uninsured and includes what they consider pro-life abortion measures. “I have doubts about the bill. I do not think it’s a step towards anything I’ve supported in the past,” Kucinich told reporters at the House Radio and TV Gallery Wednesday morning. “But, after careful discussions with President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, my wife Elizabeth and close friends, I have decided to cast a vote in favor of the legislation.”
The press conference had all the hallmarks of a Kucinich press conference, though the packed room was probably one of the largest media crowds he’d ever drawn. He quoted Native American philosophy, talked about his own health struggles with Crohn’s disease and his poor childhood, occasionally living out of cars, and how he found relief from much of his physical suffering when he became a vegetarian. But, despite the biographical narrative, the press conference was less about Kucinich than it was about Obama who met with the congressman four times to lobby for his vote. “As a nation we’re losing sight of the vision, of the electrifying potential that we caught a glimpse of at the election of President Obama. The transformational potential of his presidency and of ourselves can still be courageously summoned in ways that will reconnect America,” Kucinich said. I have “a real desire for our President to succeed. One of the things that’s bothered me is the attempts to delegitimize his presidency. That hurts the nation. He was elected… So even though I’ve had some serious doubts this is a defining moment.”
Kucinich even joked about his nervousness getting on Air Force One to fly with the president to an event near his district in Ohio earlier this week. “Given my previous record of not supporting the administration in many things I thought that proper attire would include a parachute,” Kucinich said. He needn’t have worried: given how close the vote looks to be, Kucinich is now an MVP.