Among Democrats, fighting is breaking out all over.
The Senate’s third-ranking Democrat, Chuck Schumer (D-NY), is hurling criticisms toward the White House over Barack Obama’s handling of the recession and his myopic and politically ruinous obsession with reforming the nation’s health care system amid that economic downturn.
In response, the White House took what Reuters called the “unusual step” of publicly pledging to veto an overdue plan to reform the nation’s tax code which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has been in the process of negotiating with House Republicans.
When Obama announced his intention to extend legal status to millions of illegal immigrants by executive fiat, it also exposed fissures within the Democratic Party. A number of Senate Democrats, including Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), expressed their dissatisfaction with Obama’s actions in clear and uncertain terms.
Manchin, Donnelly, and Heitkamp had previously spoken in support Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) failed effort to pass a measure approving the construction of the Keystone Pipeline against the wishes of the White House. Alongside Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT), these centrist Democrats could emerge as a bloc of votes that would help the incoming majority Republican Party advance legislation through the Senate.
“There is clearly a lot of unhappiness and a lot of mistrust that exists between the president and his congressional party,” Rutgers University professor Ross Baker told Reuters.
The gradual implosion of the Democratic Party’s formerly vaunted unity is not merely limited to Capitol Hill. The squabbling is coming from inside the White House.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel might have gone quietly. Reports that few have reason to doubt indicate that he was as frustrated with the president’s management as were his last two predecessors. The even-tempered former Nebraska politician has never been one to backbite. He may have been content to shuffle off stage and keep his unfiltered thoughts about Obama to himself if the administration had not tried to cast him as the source of so many of its present difficulties on the defense policy front. But the political service Hagel could perform as a symbol of an administration sloughing off encumbering detritus proved too tempting for the White House.
“Hagel never really proved himself,” NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell revealed while summarizing the thoughts of one or several of her sources within the administration.
“Mr. Hagel has often had problems articulating his thoughts — or administration policy — in an effective manner,” The New York Times echoed.
In a subsequent Times dispatch, one administration official said that the president felt he would benefit politically from the removal of one of his Cabinet members. “So he went for the low-hanging fruit,” the official said casually.
The president’s aides went on, apparently, to cast Hagel in the role of scapegoat.
“Aides said Mr. Obama made the decision to remove his defense secretary on Friday after weeks of rising tensions over a variety of issues, including what administration officials said were Mr. Hagel’s delays in transferring detainees from the military prison in Guantanamo Bay and a dispute with Susan E. Rice, the national security advisor, over Syria policy.”
For a time, sources close to Hagel had kept their side of the story to themselves. Someone described as a “senior defense official” told CBS that Hagel was “fed up with micromanagement” from the administration, but that was the extent of Hagel’s attempt at self-defense. That was not to last.
In an illuminating piece in The Wall Street Journal published last week, individuals close to Hagel revealed that he was only leaving his post after a “year of frustrations.” That piece included a number of damning quotes that indicate that Obama, not Hagel, is the source of the administration’s woes.
“One of the things that Hagel values most is clarity,” said a confidante of the defense secretary. “That’s not something that this White House has always done well.”
James Jeffrey, who served as Mr. Obama’s ambassador in Turkey and Iraq, said of Mr. Hagel: “His removal won’t make things better because he was not the source of the problem. The problems seem to be closer to the president.”
Moreover, the report alleges, Hagel served as Obama’s unsolicited Casandra. He reportedly issued a series of prophetic warnings about the deteriorating international security environment that went unheeded.
Sources close to Hagel suggest that he became disillusioned when the president cancelled a plan to strike pro-Assad targets in Syria just one day before they were slated to begin. The Pentagon chief’s exasperation grew when he reportedly warned the president to take firm and prompt measures which would communicate to Vladimir Putin that his aggression in Ukraine would not go unopposed. “Moscow – not the Middle East – posed the most serious long-term threat to international security, Mr. Hagel told the president,” The Journal reported.
“Mr. Hagel tried to move the ball forward with Mr. Obama directly. In a private meeting in late July, he warned Mr. Obama that the U.S. wasn’t focused enough on Russia, and was lurching from crisis to crisis without direction, according to a senior defense official,” the report revealed.
All of Hagel’s warnings went ignored. America is now entering the conflict in Syria too late and with conditions far less favorable than they were in the autumn of 2013. Russia has expanded the conflict in Ukraine, and threatens to destabilize more of that country and other former Soviet Republics. Hagel may not be the farsighted sage that this report portrays him to be, but it is clear his side of the story of his time in the White House is a bit more complicated than the administration would like to suggest.
If nothing else, it seems likely that Hagel will be the third consecutive secretary of defense serving under Obama to write an unfavorable account of the president’s managerial style after leaving office.