Dems’ top goal in 2015: Unity

Dems’ top goal in 2015: Unity
© Greg Nash

Democratic leaders want to avoid the prospect of President Obama becoming a piñata in an intraparty bash fest during the final years of his presidency.

They are stressing the importance of party unity as House Democrats cope with their fewest members since World War II and Senate Democrats adjust to their new minority status.


The president’s poll numbers have increased recently, but Democrats are still trying to shake off a disastrous 2014. Tensions between Capitol Hill Democrats and the White House were a constant throughout last year, which ended with a lot of finger-pointing.

Obama was viewed as a major liability for red-state Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections, and some centrists are now teaming up with Republicans to change two of his biggest legacy items: ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act.

Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSchumer wants answers from Trump on eminent domain at border Trump AG pick: I won't be 'bullied' by anyone, including the president Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing MORE (D-Ill.) on Tuesday listed ObamaCare, Dodd-Frank and immigration reform as “hot-button items for Republicans” on which it will be crucial to keep his caucus unified.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate rejects government-wide ban on abortion funding Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks MORE (D-W.Va.), who is mulling a gubernatorial bid, and Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party Senate approves funding bill, preventing partial government shutdown MORE (D-Ind.) have signed on to legislation that would change the healthcare law’s definition of full-time employment from 30 hours per week to 40 hours.

Manchin teamed up with Republican Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkDems vow swift action on gun reform next year This week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill Trump attending Senate GOP lunch Tuesday MORE (Ill.) in the last Congress to delay ObamaCare’s individual mandate, and many other Democrats support repealing the medical device tax, a crucial source of funding for the law.

“We need to look at ways to improve the act,” said Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenGOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party The Hill's Morning Report — Trump eyes wall money options as shutdown hits 21 days MORE (D-N.H.), who had to fend off repeated GOP efforts to tie her to the president and the rocky rollout of ObamaCare during her tight 2014 reelection race.

Democratic leaders are pressing their rank-and-file colleagues not to sign on to Republican-sponsored reform efforts that they argue would eviscerate reforms to healthcare and Wall Street.

Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySen. Murray says Washington behavior reminds her of former preschool students Senate rejects government-wide ban on abortion funding Overnight Health Care: Dem chair plans hearing on Medicare for all | Senate GOP talks drug prices with Trump health chief | PhRMA CEO hopeful Trump reverses course on controversial pricing proposal MORE (Wash.), Senate Democratic Conference Secretary, urged colleagues at a private lunch to reject the proposal to institute a 40-hour workweek definition for ObamaCare.

“Removing the individual mandate or moving the 30-hour requirement to 40 hours would gut the Affordable Care Act,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDems demand answers following explosive new Cohen report Dem senators debate whether to retweet Cardi B video criticizing Trump over shutdown Cardi B expresses solidarity with federal workers not getting paid MORE (D-Conn.). “There’s some Democratic support for changes that would be devastating to the Affordable Care Act, but we certainly have to keep the caucus as united as possible on these major and devastating changes.”

The worst-case scenario for Democratic leaders would be mass desertions along the lines then-President George W. Bush encountered during the final two years of his presidency. In 2006, the GOP lost control of both the House and Senate, and Republicans who had bitten their tongues for years lashed out at the administration.

Bush’s popularity within his own party sunk so low that he skipped the 2008 GOP convention. At the time, the White House noted that Bush needed to focus on preparations for a hurricane that was about to hit the Gulf Coast. Four years later sans hurricane, Bush opted not to attend the 2012 Republican convention.

Obama is trying to energize his party by taking on Republicans after having to walk a delicate line in 2014. The White House faced a nearly impossible task of firing up the liberal base while not upsetting targeted Democrats in conservative-leaning states.

Free of those restraints, Obama issued a sweeping executive order on immigration reform after the election, proposed two years of free tuition to community college for millions of students, and called for higher taxes and fees on the wealthy and on large Wall Street banks.

Democratic strategist Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners, argues the Democratic coalition is much stronger at the end of Obama’s presidency than the GOP coalition was at the end of George W. Bush’s.

“I think the only thing we need to do to hold together our coalition is to have the president show the kind of leadership he is showing by outlining aggressive Democratic alternatives, like the college education, like the economic policies,” she said.

Lake said the GOP faced bigger divisions late in George W. Bush’s presidency, as conservatives became increasingly disaffected with the administration’s spending record, and evangelical Christians felt they had few accomplishments to tout after six years of unified Republican control of Washington.

“Many Bush policies at that point weren’t very popular with Republicans, including education policies, including foreign policies,” she said.

An early test of unity will come during the Senate debate on legislation authorizing the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Ten Democratic senators voted to advance the bill earlier this month after Obama threatened to veto it.

Well aware that the legislation will pass with bipartisan support, Democratic leaders are focused on unifying the caucus on amendments that can be used as political ammo in the 2016 campaign. One measure would ban the export of oil that flows through the transnational pipeline. Another would require constructing the project with American steel.

Republicans are also looking to pick off Democrats on proposals to overhaul the 2010 Wall Street reform law.

Some Democrats have already voted for two rollbacks of the law embedded in the year-end omnibus appropriations bill and the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA).

“We’ve already made a couple changes to Dodd-Frank, one in the ‘cromnibus’ and one in the TRIA bill,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTSA agents protest government shutdown at Pittsburgh airport The case for Russia sanctions Pompeo planning to meet with Pat Roberts amid 2020 Senate speculation MORE (R-Ky.) said Tuesday.

He said reworking ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank are two priorities for the new Senate Republican majority.

“We’re looking for ways to revisit both of those in ways that would make them substantially different,” he said.