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Obama’s Chilly Relationship with Senate Dems

President Obama’s populist, “do-nothing-Congress” rhetoric – which attacks both Republicans and Democrats alike – is starting to create resentment with lawmakers from his own party, The Hill reports. And that’s not the only thing Democrats are angry about. The president has had a long-time problem building relationships with members of Congress, and the built-up frustration over that is starting to boil over.

The final straw for some top Senate Democrats was when the White House officials left them waiting on a conference call for nearly 20 minutes, before coming onto the line unprepared for the meeting:

Obama left his party’s top senators, who had assembled for a conference call, hanging on the phone for nearly 20 minutes before National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling came on the line with a seemingly vague notion of what the call was supposed to be about, Democratic sources said. …

Obama and Reid speak frequently on the phone, but the conversations can be terse. One Democratic source quipped that it’s often a contest to guess who will hang up on the other first. Reid, as it turns out, doesn’t have a habit of saying goodbye when he ends a call.

These are seemingly minor issues, but Democrats are facing tough reelections next year and are undoubtedly on edge. Many of them took political risks by supporting Obama’s legislative agenda, and the president’s attacks on Congress aren’t exactly a show of appreciation.

Beyond the bruised egos, Democratic leaders are also finding their political priorities are out of sync with the president’s. And they seem to be more willing to break with the White House on these issues.

I recently wrote that Sen. Harry Reid might make legislation on Chinese currency manipulation a precondition to supporting the free trade agreements Obama has been promoting since mid-summer. The White House finally got around to sending the trade deals to Congress this week, and now it sounds like Reid is shelving them:

In a pointed show of independence, Reid scheduled a vote Monday to take up legislation addressing Chinese currency manipulation, which the administration does not support. The leader has put two of the president’s priorities, free-trade agreements and a $447 billion jobs package, on the backburner to deal first with China. …

Reid’s insistence on giving priority to the China legislation stems less from his belief in congressional prerogatives. It’s a simple calculation that the political needs of his caucus are diverging from the president’s.

On the one hand, a fight with both congressional Democrats and congressional Republicans could play into Obama’s attempts to depict himself as a middle-ground president fighting against an obstinate Congress. On the other hand, it further discredits his leadership ability. In a way, it would be a fulfillment of Obama’s promise to be a “uniter,” but in the worst way possible. Instead of bringing both sides together behind him, he’s bringing both sides together against him.


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