WASHINGTON (CNN) – As Obama prepares to go before Congress and lay out more details about his stance on health reform, he held a conference call Friday with some of the most liberal members of the House, who say they won't vote for a bill without a government-run insurance option.
Two congresswomen on the call, which took place Friday afternoon, tell CNN that the president probed them about how entrenched they are, even asking them to define what they mean when they call for a "robust" public option.
"I think he would like to convince us that there is something short of that could lead to a public option that would satisfy us, and guess what? It doesn't," Rep. Lynne Woolsey, D-California, told CNN in a telephone interview after the conference call.
Woolsey, the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, insisted that the president did not explicitly warn them that he may have to give up a so-called public option in order to pass a bill through the more moderate Senate, but it seemed he was laying the groundwork.
"He has to decide where that line has to be drawn and he knows we have to decide where the line can be drawn," said Woolsey.
The conference call included leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
Another Democratic source familiar with the call said the president did made clear it will be hard to pass a public option out of Congress because of deep opposition from moderates, and talked about what's most important to him - market reforms that force more competition, lower costs for health care, and expanded coverage for the uninsured.
But both Woolsey and Rep Barbara Lee, D-California, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told CNN that they told the president point blank that they do not believe a health care proposal without a government-run option is real reform.
"All of our caucuses are very unified about a robust public option, and that is essential in healthcare reform efforts," Lee told CNN in a separate phone interview after the conference call.
"Because the cost to those who have insurance, which is 85 percent of the public - they want to make sure that they keep their coverage that they have choice but that their premiums come down. And we communicated this very clearly to the president. The only way that that can happen for those are already insured is to have a robust public option, " she said.
Lee said she answered the president's question about what a robust option means by saying it should be crafted along the lines of Medicare for senior citizens.
Woolsey and Lee said the president invited them to the White House to continue the discussion on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, before his speech to Congress.