Obama plays behind-the-scenes role in rebuilding Democratic Party

Former President Obama is involved in discussions about the future of the Democratic Party, sources close to the former president tell The Hill. 

Since leaving office, he has held meetings — on a by-request basis — with a handful of House and Senate lawmakers in his office in Washington’s West End and over the phone. 

In recent months, for example, he sat down one-on-one with freshman Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), according to a Democrat familiar with the meeting.  

He has also met with and has had phone conversations with Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez throughout the spring, according to two sources. 

{mosads}“Hey man, it’s only the future of the world in your hands,” Obama joked with Perez in one conversation, according to a DNC aide.  

Obama’s former political adviser David Simas, who is now the CEO of the Obama Foundation, has also been making a string of calls to DNC officials in recent months.

Sources familiar with Obama’s meetings with members of Congress declined to offer the names of all of the lawmakers he has met with, saying the sessions were meant to be private. 

The DNC source described Obama’s chats with Perez as regular “check ins.”

Obama hasn’t had a major public presence on the political stage since leaving the White House. 

“He doesn’t want the focus to be on him,” said one source close to the former president. “He doesn’t want to be out in front.” 

But the private activity suggests that the former president, who left the White House with a 60 percent approval rating, is quietly doing more to shape the party than is often visible. 

The meetings and calls have come at a time when the Democratic Party, still reeling from the stunning 2016 presidential election loss, is searching for leadership. 

As the party attempts to rebuild, Democrats find themselves in an identity crisis, still trying to figure out how they lost white working-class voters and the states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to President Trump. 

A string of disappointing House special election losses has contributed to a sense of unease, and left Democrats questioning some of their leaders — particularly House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). 

One source close to the former president said that while Obama wants to provide space for new leadership in the party to step in, he also wants to be “an available resource” for those drafting the Democratic message. 

The conversations between Obama and the lawmakers and party leaders are said to vary. 

With Perez, the men discussed the outlines of the party’s future. With others, he has discussed policy. 

Obama — known for his ability to reach various segments of the Democratic Party — has talked about bridging the party’s current divide by explaining policy nuance in story form. 

Obama’s post-presidency office would not comment for this story.

The former president is expected to stay out of the political fray for now, sources familiar with his planning say, but he will begin emerging on the fundraising circuit and on the stump for candidates including Ralph Northam, the Democrat running for governor of Virginia, in the fall. 

Northam approached the former president — who carried the state in 2008 and 2012 with the help of millennials and African-Americans — and asked him to get involved.

When Obama does hit the trail, he is expected to keep the debate policy-focused — and at least initially he won’t be pounding the drum on Trump. 

Obama has taken a similar tack when he does weigh in publicly. He does so sparingly, when he feels much is at stake, those around him say.  

Last week, for example, as Republicans considered a bill aimed at repealing his signature healthcare law, Obama put out a statement blasting his opponents for putting the American people through “pain.”

“Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family — this bill will do you harm,” he said in the statement. “And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.”

Obama also weighed in on the French election, choosing to endorse the eventual winner Emmanuel Macron over the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. 

While Obama — who still lives in Washington — remains out of the political spotlight, his post-presidency work has kept him on the road — and meeting with world leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

The meetings have left some Democrats pining for what was during the Obama presidency and contrasting it with Trump’s rocky foreign policy relations. 

A news story in The New York Times, noting the chumminess in Obama’s meetings with foreign leaders, went as far to say, “one might be forgiven for thinking that Mr. Obama was trolling President Trump.”

Those in Obamaworld say that wasn’t the former president’s intent and that his focus is on his foundation and other post-presidency efforts. 

“He doesn’t want to be president or the voice of the Democratic Party,” one former Obama aide said. “But he’ll definitely be there to guide folks along the way.”  

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