They complain the White House has not consulted enough and failed to assert leadership. They say Mr. Obama has been too passive and ceded momentum to Republicans. Their grievances are sometimes contradictory; some grouse that he takes on causes he cannot win, while others say he does not fight hard enough for principled positions. The failure to enact tightened gun control laws and the Republican hold on immigration legislation have left liberals little to celebrate this year.

“If you read the papers, you almost think the Republicans are in control,” said Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and vigorously opposed Mr. Summers until he withdrew from consideration. “They’re constantly on the offensive. Democrats are on the defensive.”

The lack of strong leadership, he added, has created a vacuum. “I think you’re going to see more independents saying, ‘Mr. President, we look forward to working with you, but we’re not simply going to accept your leadership and your ideas,’” he said. “‘We’re not going to follow you. You’re going to have to work with us.’”…

A former senior administration official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said the White House had inspired no fear among lawmakers since it was run by Rahm Emanuel, a knuckle-rapping former congressman from Illinois.