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 BidenSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Giuliani says he discussed Biden with Ukrainian official 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 SchumerJewish Democratic congresswoman and veteran blasts Trump's 'disloyalty' comments Schumer says Trump encouraging anti-Semites Saagar Enjeti: Biden's latest blunder; Krystal Ball: Did Schumer blow our chance to beat McConnell? 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 BlasioMayor de Blasio, the small business killer The Hill's Morning Report - Trump touts new immigration policy, backtracks on tax cuts De Blasio's video snafu earns laughter in Iowa 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 ClintonPoll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump touts new immigration policy, backtracks on tax cuts Hickenlooper announces Senate bid 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 HarrisPoll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Rising Warren faces uphill climb with black voters Inslee drops out of 2020 presidential race 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 KlobucharOvernight Defense: Two US service members killed in Afghanistan | Trump calls on other nations to take up fight against ISIS | Pentagon scraps billion-dollar missile defense program ABC unveils moderators for third Democratic debate Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill 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."