Former Cabinet member: Obama abandoned bipartisanship early

Former Cabinet member: Obama abandoned bipartisanship early
© Zach Krahmer

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said President Obama abandoned his efforts toward bipartisanship in his first term, shortly after selecting the former Republican lawmaker to run the transportation department. 

“Bipartisanship is in his DNA. I’m proof of it,” LaHood said in an interview with The New York Times to promote his new book "Seeking Bipartisanship: My Life in Politics."

“But time and intervening circumstance didn’t allow him to do it in the way that he would have wanted to,” the former Department of Transportation chief and Illinois lawmaker continued. 

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Obama picked LaHood to serve as Transportation secretary in 2009 in one of his most high-profile attempts at reaching out to Republicans after his election in 2008. 

Prior to serving as Obama’s first-term Transportation secretary, LaHood was a member of Congress from 1995 to 2009. 

LaHood wrote in his book that he does not believe "the White House ever committed fully to a genuine bipartisan approach to policymaking, despite the president’s words to the contrary,” according to The Times interview, published Wednesday. 

“President Obama depended almost exclusively on a handful of folks situated in the White House,” LaHood wrote, according to the report. “He rarely sought counsel outside that group. He did not, as other presidents have done, place a high value on consulting with members of Congress.

“As time passed,” LaHood continued, “the president seemed to me to become more isolated, more insulated from those outside the in-group, less engaged with others.” 

LaHood said in the interview that Obama's decision to push through a large economic stimulus in his first months in office with mostly Democratic votes set the tone for the partisan battles that occurred during the rest of his tenure in the White House. 

“I think they felt like they need to push this through quickly to get the economy moving,” he said. “And, boom, they made a decision that they were going to pass economic stimulus with just Democratic votes. That was the beginning of the end of bipartisanship.”

LaHood added in his book, however, that "House Republicans deserve a fair amount of blame for the lockstep vote on stimulus. 

LaHood was replaced as Transportation secretary by former Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Anthony Foxx, a Democrat.