Congressional Democrats Are Angry at Obama ... Again

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Legislators say the president isn't paying enough attention to them. Where have we heard that before?

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President Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Steny Hoyer, and Senator Harry Reid in happier times (Reuters)

Here's a headline in today's issue of Politico: "Hill Democrats want more love from President Obama." The piece, by Jonathan Martin and Manu Raju, is an impressive feat of reporting, and the many Democrats willing to go on the record to complain about a popular president from their own party is a testament to just how frustrated members of Congress are.

But if it sounds familiar, well, you wouldn't be wrong. Here are a few headlines from the last few years:

  • December 16, 2011: "Obama's Aloofness Irks Democrats": "President Obama complains a lot about "partisan gridlock" and "obstruction" in Congress. But even Democrats say he won't get down in the trenches to bridge differences."
  • July 7, 2011: "Hill Democrats Irked Over Obama's Social Security Overture": "Before Thursday's White House meeting on the budget, congressional Democrats said they planned to remind President Obama not to leave his party and base behind. The Democrats' testiness followed reports that the White House was proposing to alter Social Security and Medicare as part of a potential debt-ceiling deal with Republicans."
  • June 28, 2011: "House Democrats feel jilted by the president in budget, debt talks": "They're looking down Pennsylvania Avenue for some sign of affection from President Obama in the White House. But all they feel they're getting in return is the back of his hand."
  • April 9, 2011: "Some Democrats Complain About Budget Compromise": "President Obama hailed the late-night budget deal that averted a government shutdown on Friday as "good news for the American people," but members of his own party seemed less convinced."
  • December 9, 2010: "House Democrats vent on tax plan, focus criticism on estate tax": "House Democrats vented their frustrations with President Barack Obama's tax proposal at a closed-door meeting Tuesday night, with rank-and-file members slamming the White House for leaving House Democrats out of final negotiations."
  • July 15, 2010: "House Democrats Furious with President Barack Obama Over Lack of Support for Reelection Campaigns": "Anger is mounting on Capitol Hill, directed at President Obama. But this time, it's not coming from Republicans -- it's coming from members of the president's own party. After months of growing frustration, Congressional Democratic leaders exploded this week, saying the president isn't giving them the support they need ahead of the coming mid-term elections, despite their tough work on his behalf."
  • May 10, 2010: "Democrats: Jobs Get Short Shrift": "House Democrats are worried about jobs ­-- both for the country and themselves. And they blame President Barack Obama."
  • And lastly, July 15, 2008 -- from when Obama had barely clinched the Democratic nomination for president: "Hill Democrats miffed at Obama": "After a brief bout of Obamamania, some Capitol Hill Democrats have begun to complain privately that Barack Obama's presidential campaign is insular, uncooperative and inattentive to their hopes for a broad Democratic victory in November."

What can we learn from this? First, it shows that Congressional Democrats, like most politicians (and indeed most people!), like it when attention and prestige is showered upon them, and think they have great insights that the president should heed. Somehow the passage of time isn't swaying them from this belief.

Second, they're not likely to be satisfied anytime soon. Look no further than the 2008 example: People have been telling Obama he needs to play more of an inside game for more than four years. And while his choice of Rahm Emanuel as his first chief of staff was seen as a way of reaching out to Congress, he's gone now and the complaints are still around -- Obama isn't buying the need to make representatives and senators feel special. There are signs that the president intends to run his second term differently than his first, perhaps less cautiously, or more liberally, or with less concern for transcendence. But the way he plans to do that seems to center around the bully pulpit and a push to create a standing grassroots army of activists. That means Congressional Democrats can probably look forward to four years of feeling unappreciated -- and you can look forward to four more years of headlines like these.

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David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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