Fact Check: Did Obama and Sebelius Only Meet in Person Once?

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

President Barack Obama, accompanied by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, announces a revamped contraception policy on Feb. 10, 2012, in Washington

A column in Politico magazine today makes the astonishing claim that President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had just one in-person meeting at the White House between March 23, 2010, the day the Affordable Care Act was signed, and Nov. 30, 2013. The author of the column, Peter Schweizer, bases his assertion on an analysis of the president’s public schedule and offers an explanation for why it shows the President and the chief implementer of his signature policy achievement “almost never” met over the past three years.

Perhaps the insular White House team wanted to distance the president from the bureaucratic process in the hopes of granting him a halo of deniability if the launch failed. . . . Obama’s critics say his loner style makes him unusually uninterested in working with other politicians.

The problem? Sebelius and the President did meet— a lot. “She is frequently at the White House for meetings related to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, including dozens with the President in the last year alone,” says Joanne Peters, a  spokeswoman for HHS. “In fact, she met with the President just yesterday.”

The problem with Schweizer’s analysis is his data set: Cabinet Secretaries who regularly come to the White House are not always recorded in the White House visitors log or listed on the president’s public schedule. But Schweizer, a former foreign policy adviser to Sarah Palin and a fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank, based the column on an analysis of the official presidential schedule and a presidential calendar published by Politico. Featuring several pie charts and color-coded tables, the analysis was put together by the Government Accountability Institute. Schweizer is GAI’s president and the organization says its mission is “To investigate and expose crony capitalism, misuse of taxpayer monies, and other governmental corruption or malfeasance.”

Sebelius has said that the President was never told the launch of HealthCare.gov was destined to flop, which is why it’s relevant to understand more about how much Sebelius knew about its problems and what she conveyed to the president. But it’s clear that analyzing the White House presidential calendar is not a good place to start this fact finding mission, as this official document does not record all—or even most—of the interactions between Obama and those who work for him.

Previous news stories and columns analyzing the presidential calendar and White House visitor logs have similarly offered a skewed snapshot of how Obama spends his time. In May 2012, the Washington Post published an item called “Which Cabinet secretary visits the least,” analyzing the White House visitor logs to determine how often Obama met with cabinet members. The piece noted that “the database covering guests to the White House complex doesn’t show us every visit” but the Post published a follow up item the next day pointing out that then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had visited the White House 681 times, far more than the 33 times that showed up in the visitor logs.

In 2012, Marc Thiessen published a column in the Post citing a GAI report to make the claim that Obama “skips” more than half of his daily intelligence briefings. The Post’s chief fact checker Glenn Kessler called the claim “bogus” and “specious” and awarded it “three Pinocchios.”