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 Trump’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 McConnell (R-Ky.) has called Obama’s comments on the coronavirus outbreak “classless.”
“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 Thune (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 Durbin (D-Ill.).
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (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 Obama 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.
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 Trump 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 Braun (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 Cornyn (R-Texas), an adviser to McConnell.
Asked if Obama should be weighing in, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) added, “You know me, I’m not very sensitive.”
“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 Grassley (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.”
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 Paul (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.
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.”