Not on the record they aren’t, although they’re not exactly enthusiastic about Barack Obama when it comes to hitching their wagons to his central legislative achievement. Off the record, it’s a different story entirely, Ron Fournier writes at National Journal today. His most critical columns of the White House have come with Democratic rather than Republican sourcing, Fournier reveals, which reminds him a lot of the post-Katrina Bush administration:
The email hit my in-box at 9:41 p.m. last Wednesday. From one of the most powerful Democrats in Washington, a close adviser to the White House, the missive amounted to an electronic eye roll. “Even I have had enough.”
Another Democrat had quit on President Obama.
The tipping point for this person was the Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl case—not the soldier-for-Taliban swap itself as much as how the White House mishandled its obligation to communicate effectively and honestly to Congress and the public. More than that, Obama’s team had failed once again to acknowledge its mistakes, preferring to cast blame and seek cover behind talking points.
According to Fournier, this is not anything new:
“Dem Party is F****d,” wrote a Democratic consultant with strong ties to the White House and Capitol Hill during the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act website.
A Democratic House member whose endorsement in 2008 helped lift the Obama candidacy told me in January, “He’s bored and tired of being president, and our party is paying the price.”
“Talented guy but no leader,” said a Democratic lobbyist and former member of Congress in March. “If he could govern half as well as he campaigns, he’d be a good-to-great president.”
The Taliban 5 swap may be the last straw for more Democrats, including some who aren’t shy about going on the record. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, spent all last week torpedoing White House excuses for cutting a worse deal with the Taliban than the one Congress rejected in 2011. She wasn’t backing down much yesterday when asked by Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation, claiming that the White House still hasn’t fully briefed her and her committee on the swap, and haven’t been honest about it either:
Feinstein also said that Obama is “justifiably proud” of bringing Bowe Bergdahl home, but prefaced that by saying that she had no idea why Obama would have made the announcement into a Rose Garden photo op had he known all the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance. It doesn’t appear that Feinstein has much confidence in Obama’s engagement on this issue, and other Democrats feel the same way in general about Obama’s abilities as an executive or a leader.
At the same time, CNN wonders whether the Taliban 5 swap will impose a price on Democrats in the midterms:
Will foreign policy play a factor in the 2014 midterms? It is unlikely that it will be a major issue but there are ways it could have an indirect effect on the ballot box and cause trouble for Democrats when Americans turn out to vote.
At the most immediate level, the foreign policy controversy has already distracted the news media from other kinds of stories upon which congressional Democrats were hoping to focus. The foreign policy controversy intensified just as there was evidence that the economy was picking up steam and that the Obama’s health care program was gaining strength. Both signs of accomplishment were put on the back burner, overshadowed by the Bergdahl debate.
The stories also feed the perception of some voters who feel that Democrats have not done a good job managing government. This is a White House that once prided itself on competence. Obama, a well-educated politician who surrounded himself with bright staff, vowed to avoid the kind of mismanagement that had been on display with Hurricane Katrina during President George W. Bush’s term. But that reputation has slowly been undercut, especially after the botched health care website rollout and the VA scandal.
Some of the coverage of the foreign policy, including recent reports on how the deal with the Taliban was handled, have played into these kinds of criticism. The New York Times published a lengthy piece about the diminishing returns that Obama was able to obtain over the past several years in exchange for the release of the Taliban 5 and evidence of how his team had mishandled the process.
The big risk is in the dispiriting impact this will have on the Democratic base, which turned out big for Obama in his two presidential elections but failed to energize in 2010 while Tea Party anger fueled Republicans’ big win. Democrats in the Beltway who give up on Obama will be a big problem for the White House, but if that’s representative of how Americans outside of the DC clique feel the same way, it will mean disaster again in the midterm elections. And it’s not just foreign policy, but also the VA scandal that has them wondering exactly what Barack Obama thinks he does for a living.