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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 BidenHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Obama: Republican Party members believe 'white males are victims' 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 SchumerChuck SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn 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 BlasioNew York City to add COVID-19 checkpoints at bridges, crossings New York authorities issue ,000 fine over secret ultra-Orthodox Jewish wedding Pioneering New York City Mayor David Dinkins dies at 93 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.
 
Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerSenate Democrats reelect Schumer as leader by acclamation  Hill associations push for more diversity in lawmakers' staffs Sanders celebrates Biden-Harris victory: 'Thank God democracy won out' MORE (D-N.J.) also accused Biden of trying to "have it both ways" by both trying to embrace and distance himself from parts of the Obama administration's legacy. 
 
"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 ClintonFederal workers stuck it out with Trump — now, we're ready to get back to work Biden soars as leader of the free world Intercept DC bureau chief says Biden picks are 'same people' from Obama years 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 HarrisBiden teams to meet with Trump administration agencies Biden: 'Difficult decision' to staff administration with House, Senate members Ossoff, Warnock to knock on doors in runoff campaigns 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 KlobucharHillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff YouTube temporarily suspends OANN account after spreading coronavirus misinformation 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.

Meanwhile, Sen. Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDemocrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Biden rolls out national security team Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks MORE (D-Del.), a Biden supporter, told CNN that he was "really surprised" that 2020 candidates were using Obama's legacy as a line of attack. 
 
"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."