Why Obama has so few friends on the Hill

In his first year in of­fice, Obama boas­ted of two close friend­ships, both with Re­pub­lic­ans much older than him—Sens. Tom Coburn of Ok­lahoma and Richard Lugar of In­di­ana. With both now gone from the Sen­ate, Obama aides struggle to name oth­er friends. The closest seem to be Mc­Caskill and Demo­crat­ic Sen. Robert Ca­sey of Pennsylvania. One former White House aide told Na­tion­al Journ­al that Obama’s “close re­la­tion­ship” with Mc­Caskill “star­ted when he cam­paigned for her Sen­ate bid in 2006 from his neigh­bor­ing state.” It was then ce­men­ted in his 2008 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign.

“It was nev­er lost on him that she en­dorsed him over Hil­lary Clin­ton just months after ar­riv­ing in the Sen­ate,” said the former aide. “It was a gutsy play on her part, and his loy­alty to her has grown in­to a close per­son­al friend­ship.”

An­oth­er former White House staffer de­scribed a sim­il­ar path for Ca­sey. Obama nev­er for­got Ca­sey’s 2008 primary en­dorse­ment. Even now, he said, the pres­id­ent speaks reg­u­larly with Ca­sey, of­ten about per­son­al mat­ters. But few oth­er sen­at­ors are blessed with that kind of per­son­al in­ter­ac­tion with the pres­id­ent.

Some sen­at­ors didn’t really re­gard Obama as ever be­ing one of them. Then-Sen. Max Baucus told The New York Times that Obama “didn’t really serve in the Sen­ate.” He was re­flect­ing the wide­spread view that Obama nev­er threw him­self in­to his Sen­ate du­ties so much as use his Sen­ate perch to quickly launch his White House bid. In that, he was merely fol­low­ing the route paved by both Hard­ing and Kennedy, neither of whom were Sen­ate heavy­weights, in­stead view­ing Cap­it­ol Hill as a way sta­tion to the White House.