A Struggle Within? Harry Reid, Democrats Increasingly Frustrated With Aloof Obama
August 21, 2014 by Ben Bullard
As his second term matures (or festers, if you prefer), President Obama is leading the executive branch into closer alliances with lobbying interests and partisan donors. But he‚Äôs doing so at the expense of traditional political alliances, leaving his would-be Democratic allies in the legislative branch to fend for themselves when it comes to crafting policy and forging both intra-party and bipartisan political alliances.
Reportedly, Democratic Congressional leaders — especially Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — aren‚Äôt happy about it.
From an August 18 story in The New York Times:
The meeting in the Oval Office in late June was called to give President Obama and the four top members of Congress a chance to discuss the unraveling situation in Iraq.
But Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, wanted to press another point.
With Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, sitting a few feet away, Mr. Reid complained that Senate Republicans were spitefully blocking the confirmation of dozens of Mr. Obama‚Äôs nominees to serve as ambassadors. He expected that the president would back him up and urge Mr. McConnell to relent.
Mr. Obama quickly dismissed the matter.
‚ÄúYou and Mitch work it out,‚ÄĚ Mr. Obama said coolly, cutting off any discussion.
Mr. Reid seethed quietly for the rest of the meeting, according to four separate accounts provided by people who spoke with him about it. After his return to the Capitol that afternoon, Mr. Reid told other senators and his staff members that he was astonished by how disengaged the president seemed. After all, these were Mr. Obama‚Äôs own ambassadors who were being blocked by Mr. McConnell, and Secretary of State John Kerry had been arguing for months that getting them installed was an urgent necessity for the administration.
But the impression the president left with Mr. Reid was clear: Capitol Hill is not my problem.
‚Ä¶In interviews, nearly two dozen Democratic lawmakers and senior congressional aides suggested that Mr. Obama‚Äôs approach has left him with few loyalists to effectively manage the issues erupting abroad and at home and could imperil his efforts to leave a legacy in his final stretch in office.
This anecdote aligns with the remarks of House Democrats, who told The Hill last week that Obama is shunning them — and they don‚Äôt know why.
‚ÄúIt’s hard for us to fathom; I mean, is it just lack of full staffing and resources? [Is it] professional commitment? Is it a disdain for the legislative branch? I mean, what is it? People like me want to be allies — I mean, I am an ally. So work with us, reach out to us; you know, we’re not the enemy,‚ÄĚ said Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.).
‚ÄúNot being consulted ahead of time — that just makes people crazy. Let us know ahead of time. Call us in when you’re developing something so we can give you our ground-level reality check about how this is going to work,‚ÄĚ said Congressman Ra√ļl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).
There‚Äôs another side to the problem, though — one that betrays a more calculating aspect to Obama‚Äôs shunning of Democratic Congressional leadership.
Obama surely knows he‚Äôs toxic to many Democratic incumbents seeking to retain their seats in the House and Senate this November. He‚Äôs even demonstrated a willingness to show face on behalf embattled Democrats — even when they dodge their own fundraisers to avoid being seen and photographed with the divisive president. He knows, in many Congressional races, he can only get so close to candidates in their own districts without poisoning their efforts.
If Obama‚Äôs a political albatross hanging around his own party‚Äôs neck, it makes little sense for him to keep fighting counterproductive battles in legislative districts where Democrats want nothing to do with him. But he can (and does) fundraise on his own, and he can (and does) forge alliances with lobbying interests ostensibly outside of government — alliances that ultimately could prove more effective (for Democrats) than any relationships he might be able to mend in the 113th Congress.