Relations between President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have never been worse, but it’s a feud that many in the White House quietly welcome.
Obama’s advisers insist he didn’t go out of his way to pick a fight with fellow Democrats when he cut his highly controversial deal with Republicans to temporarily extend all Bush-era tax cuts earlier this week. But if the deal served to distance Obama not only from them but the entire partisan culture of Washington, all the better, they say.
Differentiating Obama from congressional Democrats “was a positive byproduct” of the tax cut deal, a person close to Obama told POLITICO.
“Compared to these guys, the president looks mature and pragmatic,” the official said.
An angry Obama — in one of his most emotional public statements since taking office nearly two years ago — rebuked fellow Democrats during a White House news conference Tuesday, going so far as to suggest that some in his party put politics ahead of the American people by calling on him to block any extension of Bush-era tax cuts that includes the wealthy.
That doesn’t mean Obama isn’t trying to emulate Clinton’s success in wooing independents — but his rationale for doing so is less rooted in Clinton-era partisan warfare than his need to recapture the anti-Washington zeitgeist, hijacked by tea party Republicans, in time to win the 2012 election.
“I’m not going to make the American people collateral damage to political infighting in Washington,” he said in a Web video posted late Tuesday by his campaign apparatus, Organizing for America, that struck themes central to his 2008 campaign.
Obama’s impulse to distance himself from all things Washington has been compounded by his disappointment with congressional leaders.
One administration official told POLITICO that Obama was so dispirited after his Nov. 18 meeting with the Democratic leadership that he decided, then and there, to place his faith in direct talks with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“The point is the House and Senate [leadership] has proven they are incapable of getting things done,” the official said.