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 BidenThe Supreme Court and blind partisanship ended the illusion of independent agencies Missed debt ceiling deadline kicks off high-stakes fight Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session 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 SchumerSenate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session Senate holds sleepy Saturday session as negotiators finalize infrastructure deal An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done 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 BlasioBiden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement Biden rolls dice by getting more aggressive on vaccines The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge 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 BookerWomen urge tech giants to innovate on office return Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines 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 ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote 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 HarrisThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - CDC equates Delta to chickenpox in contagiousness Harris's bad polls trigger Democratic worries Why in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again? 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: Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation | Amazon fined 6M by EU regulators Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation Bill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol 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 CoonsBottom line Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law Key Biden ally OK with dropping transit from infrastructure package 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."