By Bob Cusack and Molly K. Hooper - 05/01/12 09:00 AM EDT
President Obama has shored up his liberal base over the last several months, but there are more than a few Democrats on Capitol Hill who won’t shy away from bucking the commander in chief — even in an election year.
Attacks on the White House from members of the same party always attract media attention and can be a distraction from the president’s legislative and political goals. At various times during his first term, Obama has shown irritation when he’s been hit with friendly fire.
In 2009, Obama urged Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) to “stop demeaning” him after the Michigan Democrat criticized the president’s policies on the Afghanistan war.
Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said, “The president enjoys very strong support on Capitol Hill.” He added that presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney has broken with GOP officials on a variety of issues, including “healthcare reforms he passed in Massachusetts, which were the model for ObamaCare.”
While many Democrats, such as Conyers, have rallied around the president, there are others who have put the White House on notice. A list of them follows.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)
Manchin, who is up for reelection, last week made some waves when he said he might not vote for Obama in November. Manchin doesn’t have to worry about Obama campaigning in his state — the president lost it by 13 points in 2008. In 2011, Manchin said Obama has “failed to lead” on reducing government spending. Manchin, a former governor, is favored to win reelection this fall.
Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.)
Webb, a former Republican and secretary of the Navy, is not a regular on the Sunday talk shows, but he says what is on his mind. Webb defected on a high-profile vote seeking to increase taxes on millionaires and this month said Obama “lost a lot of credibility” as a leader in his handling of healthcare reform last Congress. Webb is not seeking reelection.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)
The liberal senator ripped Obama in February on the Senate floor, accusing him of “unraveling Social Security” by extending the payroll tax holiday.
“I never thought I would have to see the day when a Democratic president of the United States and a Democratic vice president would agree to put Social Security in this kind of jeopardy,” he said at the time.
If Obama moves too far to the center this year, Harkin won’t be shy in calling the president out again.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Sanders, another staunch defender of Social Security, doesn’t bite his tongue when he is not pleased with Obama. He will criticize the president on the Senate floor, in the hallways of Congress and on MSNBC. In 2011, Sanders said it would be a “good idea” for a Democrat to primary Obama, and he has lambasted the president on taxes, trade and entitlement programs. Sanders is an Independent who caucuses with Democrats.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.)
Lieberman, an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, delivered a speech that was critical of Obama at the 2008 GOP convention. Lieberman has indicated he will keep his 2012 presidential vote to himself and not endorse anyone. But don’t expect the retiring senator to go quietly. It’s not his style.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)
DeFazio doesn’t back down from anyone, whether it’s Obama or House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). In an interview a few months ago with The Hill, DeFazio said, “I don’t care what the White House thinks. I care about what my constituents think.”
He added, “An overwhelmingly majority of the people of my district share my concerns and my views. I’ve only had two people say, ‘I’ll never vote for you again because you’ve been critical of the president.’ ”
Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.)
Cardoza has been extremely critical of the Obama administration’s housing policies. Cardoza, a retiring Blue Dog, has publicly called out Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Geithner. In a December 2011 op-ed for The Hill, Cardoza ripped “Professor Obama” as “arrogant” and alienating. The California Democrat has publicly said he will support Obama’s reelection efforts, however.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.)
Gutierrez, an early supporter of Obama when he faced Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential primary, has expressed frustration with the president on immigration matters. Gutierrez has bemoaned Obama’s repeated (unfulfilled) promises to enact comprehensive immigration reform legislation. He also has said the Obama administration’s record number of deportations of illegal immigrants is “nothing to be proud of.” But Gutierrez has recently attacked Romney on immigration and could be a key surrogate for Team Obama this fall.
Politically vulnerable House members
There will be a fair number of politically vulnerable House Democrats who will look to put some distance between themselves and Obama this fall. Some have already started. Reps. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.), John Barrow (D-Ga.) and Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) have not yet endorsed Obama’s reelection efforts. Barrow and McIntyre opposed Obama’s 2010 healthcare law, and McIntyre voted with the GOP last year to repeal it.