Obama criticism gets under GOP's skin

Republicans are sharpening their criticism of former President Obama as the past president increasingly weighs in on the Trump administration's coronavirus response and other actions.

Obama’s comments — blasting President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal plan to contain Washington protests employs 7,600 personnel: report GOP Rep calls on primary opponent to condemn campaign surrogate's racist video Tennessee court rules all registered voters can obtain mail-in ballots due to COVID-19 MORE's handing of the pandemic and the Justice Department’s decision to drop the case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn — appear to be irking Trump and some GOP lawmakers.

The president lashed out at his predecessor over the weekend, spawning the term “Obamagate,” while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump vows to campaign against Murkowski after senator's criticism Senate advances conservation fund bill, House introduces companion Paul clashes with Booker, Harris over anti-lynching bill MORE (R-Ky.) has called Obama’s comments on the coronavirus outbreak “classless.”

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“I always think it is in the best interest of the country if you don’t have the constant critiques from a previous administration,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump| Esper orders hundreds of active-duty troops outside DC sent home day after reversal | Iran releases US Navy veteran Michael White Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump GOP shifting on unemployment benefits as jobless numbers swell MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican. “I would rather that they keep their comments to themselves.”

Obama largely stuck to the political sidelines after leaving office in 2017, following a similar precedent by former President George W. Bush. But he launched back into the political dialogue in recent days after weighing in on the pandemic and Flynn — two high-profile subjects.

Senate Democrats have defended Obama’s remarks, noting that he has been sparse about when he weighs in on Trump’s actions.

“I think former President Obama has been carefully guarded in his remarks, but I couldn’t agree with him more. We have a chaotic situation in the White House,” said Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGraham postpones Russia probe subpoena vote as tensions boil over Senate panel sends Trump appeals court pick to floor in party-line vote Democrats aim to amend Graham subpoena to include Trump allies MORE (D-Ill.).

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Conspiracy theories run rampant online amid Floyd protests | First lawsuit filed against Trump social media order | Snapchat to no longer promote Trump's account Derek Chauvin charge upgraded to second-degree murder; other officers charged Democratic lawmakers push leadership to ensure college students have internet access MORE (D-Minn.), considered a potential vice presidential pick, told MSNBC that she was “glad” Obama weighed in. 

“You always imagine the different world it would have been if Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Hill's 12:30 Report: NYT publishes controversial Tom Cotton op-ed The millions of young people forgotten amid pandemic response Poll: Biden leads Trump, Cunningham neck and neck with Tillis in North Carolina MORE was president right now, because he is someone that understood that service is about sacrifice and looking out for the people of this country instead of yourself,” she said. 

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Obama offered his views on the Flynn case and the pandemic during a private call with approximately 3,000 members of the Obama Alumni Association late last week, the details of which later leaked to news organizations.

On the coronavirus response, Obama characterized the Trump administration’s efforts as an “absolute chaotic disaster.”

“It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset of ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘to heck with everybody else’ ... is operationalized in our government,” Obama said.

McConnell blasted those remarks during an online campaign event with Lara TrumpLara Lea TrumpTrump campaign launches Asian Pacific Americans coalition Lara Trump: Twitter no longer 'a platform for free speech' Frustration builds in key committee ahead of Graham subpoena vote  MORE on Monday, saying he thought it was a “little bit classless” for a former president to critique a subsequent administration.

“I think President Obama should have kept his mouth shut. You know, we know he doesn’t like much this administration is doing. That’s understandable. But I think it’s a little bit classless frankly to critique an administration that comes after you,” McConnell said.

Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunBill aims to help farmers sell carbon credits Republicans stand by Esper after public break with Trump GOP senators dodge on treatment of White House protesters MORE (R-Ind.) added that “I don’t think he [Obama] has much to say because there wasn’t much put in place.”

Republicans have argued that the Obama administration didn’t do enough to prepare for a pandemic, even though the Trump administration disbanded the National Security Council’s Global Health Security and Biodefense unit.

Obama’s comments came weeks after he appeared to take a veiled shot at the Trump administration over its coronavirus response, tweeting that there was still not a “coherent national plan” for the deadly virus.

The administration’s handling of the outbreak has been panned by Democrats, public health experts and even some Republicans, who warn they believe the administration is still lagging on testing.

Some GOP senators say they don’t care if Obama weighs in.

“It’s a free country. He’s entitled to express his beliefs just as those who disagree with him are free to express their disagreement,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP chairmen stake out turf in Obama-era probes Cornyn presses DOJ to release results of investigation into Larry Nassar probe Minority caucuses call for quick action on police reform MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to McConnell. 

Asked if Obama should be weighing in, Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John Cramer7 GOP senators slam State Dept for 'slow and inefficient policy' on passports Trump tries to soothe anxious GOP senators Trump cites 'Obamagate' in urging GOP to get 'tough' on Democrats MORE (R-N.D.) added, “You know me, I’m not very sensitive.”

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“I think you can expect people like President Obama to weigh in. ... I have a sneaking suspicion that after Donald Trump is president he won’t be that shy about weighing in on the next president,” Cramer said.

However, Obama’s remarks on the Justice Department’s decision to drop the charges against Flynn have drawn broader GOP scrutiny, with some lawmakers questioning the former president’s level of involvement in the FBI investigation.

“I think that what I’m more interested in is all the news that came out about Obamagate. ... I think he’s going to be thrown into the conversation,” Braun said when asked about Obama’s comments on the coronavirus.

Obama said of Flynn, during the call with alumni, that “there is no precedent that anybody can find for someone who has been charged with perjury just getting off scot-free.”

“That’s the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that basic — not just institutional norms — but our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk. And when you start moving in those directions, it can accelerate pretty quickly as we’ve seen in other places,” he added.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyMurkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump CBO releases analysis on extending increased unemployment benefits Grassley places hold on two Trump nominees in push for explanation of watchdog firings MORE (R-Iowa) pushed back, saying that while Obama thought the rule of law was at risk, “contrary to what President Obama believes or the media might say, I believe the opposite is true.”

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The Justice Department announced last week that it was dropping its case against Flynn, saying it believed the FBI investigation had been conducted improperly.

Republicans have homed in on a Jan. 5, 2017, meeting that included Obama, then-Vice President Biden and Justice Department and national security officials where the investigation into Russia’s election interference was discussed.

Grassley said that questions about the Flynn prosecution should be put directly to Obama, adding that “it’s time we asked: What did Obama and Biden know? And when did they know it?”

“It’s pretty clear that Obama had his fingers in this. ... And the Flynn problems were part of an effort that — the Democrats actually thought that they could cut short this presidency by probably three and a half years,” he said.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPaul clashes with Booker, Harris over anti-lynching bill Rand Paul holding up quick passage of anti-lynching bill Democratic senator to offer amendment halting 'military weaponry' given to police MORE (R-Ky.) added during a conference call with reporters that he believed there was “great deal of evidence” that Obama was “intimately” involved.

“I think the evidence that we have now does point to the president being directly involved in the Flynn case,” he asserted.

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The attacks from Capitol Hill come after Trump lashed out at Obama in a series of tweets over the weekend and during a White House press conference on Monday, panning what he called “Obamagate.”

Pressed by a Washington Post reporter on what crime he was accusing the former president of committing, Trump declined to say.

“You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody,” Trump said. “All you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours.”