President Obama’s relationship with congressional Democrats has worsened to an unprecedented low, Democratic aides say.
They are letting it be known that House and Senate Democrats are increasingly frustrated, bitter and angry with the White House over ObamaCare’s botched rollout, and that the president’s mea culpa in a news conference last week failed to soothe any ill will.
“Here we are, we’re supposed to be selling this to people, and it’s all screwed up,” one chief of staff ranted. “This either gets fixed or this could be the demise of the Democratic Party.
“It’s probably the worst I’ve ever seen it,” the aide said of the recent mood on Capitol Hill. “It’s bad. It’s really bad.”
Meanwhile, at a recent caucus meeting with Senate Democrats and White House chief of staff Denis McDonoughDenis McDonoughSunday shows preview: McMaster hits circuit for second straight week Obama chief of staff: 'The president cannot order a wiretap' Obama's chief of staff joins foundation with focus on jobs MORE, one senator stood up and asked for a political point of contact at the White House.
“There’s been an increase in frustration because people feel like they are continuing to be blindsided,” said one Democrat who attended the caucus meeting, adding that there’s a “check-the-box” mentality at the White House in dealing with lawmakers.
Democrats around Capitol Hill say there are lots of people to blame for the debacle that has engulfed them. But increasingly the anger is directed at one person only: Obama.
“Is he even more unpopular than George W. Bush? I think that’s already happened,” said one Democratic chief of staff.
Senior administration officials say they understand the frustration and anger on the opposite side of Pennsylvania Avenue and they realize Democrats are the ones who continue to take a hit.
But the senior officials say the most important thing the White House can do right now is to get the implementation of the healthcare law right. The feeling in the West Wing corridors lately is that once the rollout is fixed, the public will see all the positives behind ObamaCare.
“The policy will take care of the politics,” one senior administration official said.
But not everyone agrees with that sentiment — particularly those Democrats in both chambers who are up for reelection in 2014.
“They’re freaking out, as they should be,” said one senior Senate Democratic aide, adding that the rollout continues to be “a lasting mess.”
In the news conference last week, Obama accepted responsibility for the botched site and acknowledged that the failure of the rollout “has put a burden on Democrats, whether they’re running or not, because they stood up and supported this effort through thick and thin.
“And I feel deeply responsible for making it harder for them rather than easier for them to continue to promote the core values that I think led them to support this thing in the first place, which is, in this country, as wealthy as we are, everybody should be able to have the security of affordable healthcare,” Obama said. “And that’s why I feel so strongly about fixing it.”
The view among those in the Senate is that it would be helpful to have the ability to vote on a healthcare fix.
“People here want to be on the record showing support for fixing the problem,” the senior Senate aide said. “He should understand that. For someone who served in Congress, people are surprised how little he understands Congress.”
The White House hasn’t indicated just how much Obama will help campaign for those who are up for reelection next year. The president, who has been attending a string of fundraisers in recent days — including a West Coast check-collecting trip this weekend — is expected to help lawmakers and both campaign committees throughout 2014.
But as the healthcare problems continue to persist, lawmakers in swing districts aren’t sure that’s the best idea, especially because, according to one Democrat, “systemically you have what is a long-term problem.”
“It wouldn’t be helpful,” the Senate aide said. “Maybe he can help raise some money for Democrats, but that’s the extent of it.”
Democrats say the biggest favor Obama can do for them at the moment is to focus on untangling the web and trying to smooth out the glitches on healthcare.
“The only way he can really make it up to us is by fixing this s--t,” one Democratic House aide said.
Luckily, the aide surmised, Obama is going to want to fix the problem because his legacy is on the line.
“We have his own self interest working in our favor,” the aide said.