Some Dems Keep President Obama Far, Far Away
As we wait for the Supreme Court’s decision on ObamaCare, Congressional Democrats are highlighting their “freedom of action” (whatever that means) from President Obama’s failed leadership.
- On Thursday, Democratic reaction on the Supreme Court ruling on Obama’s signature health care law is bound to be mixed at best, as many Democrats would rather not relive the tumultuous health care debate of two years ago, regardless of what the high court decides.
- The disaffection with Obama is especially strong in the House, where members feel ignored or snubbed by the president and they have no personal ties to Obama to fall back on. One top aide said House Democrats enjoy “freedom of action” from Obama — “He’s done nothing for us so we don’t have to do anything for him.” No senior House Democrat offered a full-throated defense of Obama, saying instead that lawmakers need to watch out for their own reelections and not worry too much about the presidential dynamics.
Some Dems Keep President Obama Far, Far Away
John Bresnahan & Manu Raju
June 27, 2012
The glare of the White House race is forcing vulnerable Democrats to choose between their president and their political future.
As many as two dozen Democrats may vote Thursday to hold Barack Obama’s attorney general in contempt of Congress. Democratic lawmakers and candidates for Congress are bailing in droves on the national convention in Charlotte, a three-day gathering that’s supposed to be a celebration of Obama and a unifying moment for the party. Steve Israel, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is flatly telling candidates not to go to Charlotte and to stay in their districts to campaign.
On issues ranging from health care to the environment, Democrats in tough races are jumping ship to create distance from Obama.
Taken together, the rebukes from members of the president’s own party show just how perilous it can be for Democrats in conservative states and districts to be associated with Obama.
On Thursday, Democratic reaction on the Supreme Court ruling on Obama’s signature health care law is bound to be mixed at best, as many Democrats would rather not relive the tumultuous health care debate of two years ago, regardless of what the high court decides.
Party leaders take such defections in stride, saying that it’s more important for politically vulnerable Democrats to show their independence in an effort to win elections rather than display blind party unity.
But with the U.S. economy still sputtering, Obama is losing ground with white working-class voters, according to the latest poll from NBC and The Wall Street Journal, the same group of voters that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi will need to keep and win majorities, respectively, on Capitol Hill.
West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall is one of the Democrats breaking with his party on key votes, reflecting the tough reality that his home state is as anti-Obama as it gets.
“I have disagreed with previous presidents on a number of issues, as I have with this president,” said Rahall, who will vote for the Holder contempt resolution. Rahall has also bashed Obama over climate change and coal mining, two key issues in the Mountain State. “It’s just a matter of elections getting more difficult these days. … You have to inoculate yourself for what’s going to come.”
So even as Obama hosted lawmakers at the annual White House picnic on Wednesday, he faced a party in which significant factions want as much distance from him as they can get.
“They’re running two different races,” said a top Democratic strategist with ties to the White House and Hill leadership. “His path to reelection is not their path to reelection. … In places where he’s helpful, they’ll embrace him. In places where he’s not helpful, people will distance themselves from him.”
In North Carolina, which is playing host to the Democratic National Convention in September, Rep. Mike McIntyre won’t endorse Obama for a second term and refuses to attend the convention, located just up the road from his own district.
“I can tell you in North Carolina, we have Democrats who have very strong opinions about the direction of the country. We have some who feel the president has done too much too fast and too aggressively and others who feel the president hasn’t done enough,” added Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.).
The disaffection with Obama is especially strong in the House, where members feel ignored or snubbed by the president and they have no personal ties to Obama to fall back on. One top aide said House Democrats enjoy “freedom of action” from Obama — “He’s done nothing for us so we don’t have to do anything for him.”
No senior House Democrat offered a full-throated defense of Obama, saying instead that lawmakers need to watch out for their own reelections and not worry too much about the presidential dynamics.
And there does remain significant — and enthusiastic — backing for Obama among fellow Democrats on the Hill, although it is not quite as vocal as it was when he was riding high in the polls. This is especially true among minority lawmakers and members hailing from the East or West coasts, where Obama is strongest.
“I think members are doing their politics, which is understandable,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
“Folks are doing what they need to do, to go back home and get the votes of the people that live in their district,” added Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.). “Members are going to campaign the way they need to do to win.”
Israel, in his first term running the DCCC, said his call for Democrats to skip the convention was “taken completely and totally out of context.”
Yet Israel acknowledged that some of his rank-and-file members will cut loose from Obama, no matter what.
“It depends on the districts; it really depends on the districts,” Israel noted. “My advice to all of our candidates is do what you have to do to get here.”
“There’s no question that as well as the president does, that’s how well we do. As challenged as the president is in November, that’s how well we do,” Israel added. “We have built campaigns, fortified to succeed, in whatever climate they find themselves in.”
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), said he was “embarrassed” by the strength of the opposition to Obama in his home state.
“West Virginia is very tough for him. I’m embarrassed by that. I’m strongly for him,” Rockefeller said. “And my colleague [Sen. Joe Manchin] isn’t going to go to the convention. The governor [Earl Ray Tomblin] isn’t going to go to the convention, and how do I explain such things?”
Rockefeller added: “So I understand, they don’t trust outsiders.”
Obama campaign officials said the fight for the White House will come down to who can better sell their vision for the country’s future, not who is lining up behind which candidate.
“Election Day will offer Americans the chance to break the stalemate between two competing economic visions: Do they agree with the president that we should build the economy from the middle class out or do they agree with Mitt Romney and the Republicans that we should continue to shower the wealthiest with special breaks and assume that the market will take care of the rest?” said Ben LaBolt, the Obama campaign spokesman.
“Democrats have stood united behind the president and both his plans to create jobs now as well as to build an economy that lasts with sustainable, good-paying jobs for the middle class,” he said.
Part of Obama’s problem with rank-and-file Democrats is his isolation from most lawmakers. Many don’t know him personally, and the White House does not wield a heavy stick in keeping Democrats in line as former presidents — like George W. Bush — did.
“We don’t have an orthodoxy police that stamps out disagreement when it rears its ugly head like the Republican Party does,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). “There does not appear to be a level of discipline and orthodoxy imposed by Dick Cheney when he was whipping for the White House and attending [GOP] caucus meetings and rewarding and punishing his troops. And I think that’s a good thing.”
Republicans, for their part, are ecstatic about any anti-Obama comments from Democrats, and they would like to keep the focus on the election on the president rather than a head-to-head showdown between Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney, who still trails Obama badly in areas such as likability and trustworthiness, two key areas for voters.
“That’s what the election is about — it’s a referendum on the president’s agenda and his enablers [in Congress], people who voted for [the Democratic health care plan],” said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “And that’s not a very helpful message for incumbent Democrats.”