For a few months now commentators on both sides of the aisle have complained that President Obama has become disengaged, but now it is serious. Now the front page of the progressive bible The New York Times is calling the President disengaged. In a Tuesday story the NY Times quotes Congressional Democrats complaining about Obama’s lack of effort and attention to his presidential duties.
The article starts with a story about Harry Reid, perhaps Obama’s strongest congressional supporter. In a meeting with congressional leaders of both parties:
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’s 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.
“You and Mitch work it out,” 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’s 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.
Basically Obama was telling Reid the Senate is not my Job.
To Democrats in Congress who have worked with Mr. Obama, the indifference conveyed to Mr. Reid, one of the president’s most indispensable supporters, was frustratingly familiar. In one sense, Mr. Obama’s response was a reminder of what made him such an appealing figure in the first place: his almost innate aversion to the partisan squabbles that have left Americans so jaded and disgruntled with their political system. But nearly six years into his term, with his popularity at the lowest of his presidency, Mr. Obama appears remarkably distant from his own party on Capitol Hill, with his long neglect of would-be allies catching up to him.
While complaining about a sitting president is not new to members of congress, to have high profile members of a president’s own party do it publicly—and just two and a half months before important mid-terms is very surprising.
In private meetings, Mr. Reid’s chief of staff, David Krone, has voiced regular dismay to lawmakers and top aides about White House operations and competency across a range of issues, according to several Democrats on Capitol Hill.
“Maybe if something isn’t working, you’d say, ‘What can I do better?’ ” said Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, expressing dismay that the president seemed to have little interest in taking a warmer approach with Democrats. “Maybe we wanted something different. But it kind of is what it is.”
Asked to characterize his relationship with the president, Mr. Manchin, a centrist Democrat who has often been a bridge builder in the Senate, said: “It’s fairly nonexistent. There’s not much of a relationship.”
There are stories about the relationship between LBJ and Minority Leader of the Senate, Senator Everett Dirkson (R-Il) during the debate for the civil rights act. Johnson called the Senator inviting him over to the White House for an after work drink, something that had become a habit between the two. Dirkson begged off telling the president he had family obligations. Five minutes after they hung up Dirkson heard the sound of one of the president’s beagles outside his Senate office followed by a knock on the door. The president had brought the “drink” to the Senator.
“In order to work with people, you need to establish the relationship first before you ask for something,” said Senator Angus King of Maine, an independent member of the Democratic caucus. “And I think one of the things the White House has not done well and the president has not done well is the simple idea of establishing relationships before there is a crisis.”
Senator Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat who was an early supporter of Mr. Obama’s presidential bid, said that if her fellow Democrats were hoping for Mr. Obama to transform into a Lyndon B. Johnson late in his second term, they should quit waiting.
“For him, eating his spinach is schmoozing with elected officials,” she said. “This is not something that he loves. He wasn’t that kind of senator.”
Obama just isn’t the schmoozing type. But politics is a profession that requires it. It is hard to be a successful politician when one isn’t a “people person.” When things are humming like the first year of his presidency when progressives control both houses of Congress it doesn’t really matter. However when you are presiding over a divided government, playing the political game becomes even more important. And now as his approval ratings sinking to the extent that it threatens to cause his party to lose control of the Senate, even those in his own party are complaining about the disengaged president.