Democrats rally to Obama's defense amid 2020 criticism

Senate Democrats went on the defense Thursday for former President Obama as 2020 candidates honed in on criticizing parts of his legacy during the debates this week. 
 
Democratic White House hopefuls questioned Obama's policies, particularly on immigration, health care and trade, during Wednesday night's debate, largely as a way to try to target former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSupport drops for Medicare for All but increases for public option Bolton told ex-Trump aide to call White House lawyers about Ukraine pressure campaign: report Federal prosecutors in New York examining Giuliani business dealings with Ukraine: report MORE, who is an early front-runner for the party's 2020 nomination. 
 
But Senate Democrats, as well as high-profile officials within the party, rallied to Obama's defense on Thursday, questioning the wisdom of criticizing a former president who remains popular in the party. 
 
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"I mean, you can disagree with him, and I have, but the bottom line is he was our party standard-bearer, he was the leader of our nation. He did an extraordinary job and I think he should be given that recognition by those who are running for president," Durbin said. 
 
Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump defends 'crime buster' Giuliani amid reported probe Louisiana voters head to the polls in governor's race as Trump urges GOP support Trump urges Louisiana voters to back GOP in governor's race then 'enjoy the game' MORE (D-N.Y.) declined to specifically address the 2020 candidates when asked about their tactics on Thursday, but noted that Obama remains popular and touted the administration's accomplishments. 
 
"I think President Obama is a very, very popular figure in America to this day because he did a very good job. Did he accomplish everything? No. You compare the Obama administration to this administration, it's night and day and Americans are realizing that," Schumer said. 
 
Progressive candidates have embraced "Medicare for All" and similar proposals, viewing the Affordable Care Act, the signature health care law of the Obama administration, as inadequate. It's a shift from the 2018 elections when warning that Republicans were trying to nix the health care law and its benefits was central to the Democratic strategy to win back the House. 
 
During Wednesday night's debate, New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de Blasio2020 Presidential Candidates Cooperate, or else: New York threatens fines to force people to help block immigration enforcement DNC raises qualifying thresholds for fifth presidential debate MORE took aim at Obama's record on deporting immigrants, while Julián Castro, Obama's Housing and Urban Development secretary, said Biden hadn't "learned the lessons of the past," referring to the Obama administration.
 
 
"You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign. You can't do it when it's convenient and then dodge it when it's not," he said during Wednesday night's debate.
 
Though Obama was viewed as the more progressive candidate when he challenged then-Sen. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSaagar Enjeti: Tuesday's Democratic debate already 'rigged' against Gabbard, Sanders Ilhan Omar raises .1 million in third quarter Bloomberg rethinking running for president: report MORE (D-N.Y.) for the party's nomination in 2008, Democrats have shifted dramatically to the left since the end of his administration less than three years ago. 
 
Booker softened his criticism of Obama on Thursday, saying he wouldn't be in the race if Obama was running for a third term. Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisO'Rourke hits back at Buttigieg over criticism of his gun buyback proposal Warren leads Democratic field by 3 points in new national poll Analysis: Warren and Booker most cyber-aware 2020 candidates MORE (D-Calif.) separately told reporters on Thursday that she had "nothing but praise for President Obama."
 
 
"Be wary of attacking the Obama record. Build on it. Expand it. But there is little to be gained — for you or the party — by attacking a very successful and still popular Democratic President," he tweeted.
 
Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharHillicon Valley: Warren takes on Facebook over political ads | Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservatives | Civil liberties groups sound alarm over online extremism bill Analysis: Warren and Booker most cyber-aware 2020 candidates Poll: Democratic support for Warren climbs to record high MORE (D-Minn.), a 2020 contender who took part in the Tuesday night debate where Obama was largely a nonissue, gave the Obamas a shoutout in a tweet on Thursday.

 
"I was really surprised at how much criticism there was of literally the most popular, most recent two-term American president," Coons said. "To the extent we are going to review President Obama's record, I think we should be highlighting some of its strengths rather than re-litigating some of the questions about it."