Dem unity, minus Obama

After months of squabbling, Democrats on Capitol Hill have united in recent weeks. And in an unusual twist, they have done it in spite of President Obama.

House Democrats, who have helped the GOP pass controversial bills this year, drew the line on a stopgap spending bill last month. The White House, meanwhile, did not threaten to veto the Republican legislation.

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Unable to persuade skeptical conservatives, House Republican leaders gambled by bringing the measure to the floor — and they suffered an embarrassing defeat.

While a subsequent bill passed, House Democrats had served notice: They were tired of being pushed around.

More and more Democrats are publicly challenging Obama on a range of issues.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) ripped the administration on Tuesday for considering keeping U.S. troops in Iraq beyond this year. In a floor speech on Tuesday, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) questioned Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), meanwhile, are at odds with Obama on the trade deals he just sent to Congress. Reid has committed to moving them, though he has made clear he is not a fan. Pelosi has put the White House on notice she will not be twisting arms to pass the agreements. 

Congressional Democrats are not exactly embracing Obama’s jobs plan. Pelosi has called for an up-or-down vote on it in the House, but Reid is in no rush to schedule a vote. Reid, who is worried about keeping his majority, is well-aware that voting on Obama’s proposal puts some of his politically vulnerable members in a tough spot. 

If they vote for it, Republican opponents will use it in campaign ads next year, seeking to tie them to a president who calls himself the underdog for reelection. If they vote against it, liberals in their states will complain, and that could hurt turnout on the left.

The Hill reported this week that Obama’s relationship with congressional Democrats is deteriorating. In a way, that could be good for Democratic legislators who are attempting to forge an identity away from the president.

It won’t stay that way, of course. When there is a Republican presidential nominee in 2012, Obama and Democratic members will make up and get back together. For now, they’re on a break. And the breathing room might do both sides some good.


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