Obama and the possibility of a Republican Congress 

In a recent post on July 19, I suggested that President Obama might not be altogether unreceptive to a Republican resurgence in the House of the Senate. Undoubtedly there were more than a few readers who scoffed at the suggestion.

However, recent events with the WikiLeaks document dump and the President’s subsequent efforts to obtain additional funding for the Afghan war have provided additional evidence that this suggestion might not be as far fetched as it might first sound.   

Since it’s initial response, the White House has moved to downplaying the WikiLeaks release, agreeing with experts that the documents released by WikiLeaks don’t actually reveal all that much. What the release of the documents have achieved; however, is to “create fresh doubts about the Afghan war.”

And those doubts come at a poor time for the Obama Administration.

Numerous polls show that approval of the President’s handling of the war has dropped precipitously in the past 3-4 months and an overwhelming majority of Americans believe that the war is going poorly. While the WikiLeaks release might not bring to light much in the way of startling new information, the leaked documents confirm the beliefs to which many in the country seemed to be coming

Already, the release seems to be contributing to tangible challenges for the Administration in this regard.

On Tuesday, 102 House Democrats and twelve House Republicans voted against giving the President an additional $33 billion towards the Afghan war effort. Among the comments offered justifying the opposition were references to WikiLeaks.

"Wake up, America. The Wikileak-leaked documents gave us 92,000 reasons to end the war," said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.” 

Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz had an even more stark assessment of the Administration’s strategy.

“Most people are hesitant about pulling out because they don’t want to look like they have their tail between their legs,” Chaffetz said. “If the reason we should stay in Afghanistan is because we are in Afghanistan then it is time to re-evaluate your position.”

As reported by ABC News (link above), the divergence from the wishes of the President represented a tripling of opposition to funding for the war over last year.

The revolt by House Democrats meant that President was forced to rely on Republican votes to pass the measure. At the end of the day, 160 Republicans joined 141 Democrats to pass the measure and support the President's request.

The effort by dissident House Democrats and a handful of Republicans not only represented a watershed in opposition to the war, but also points to a troubling trend for the Obama Administration. Namely, that liberal Members of Congress are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the Obama Administration and less and less willing to follow it’s lead on a host of issues.

Of course, recently the break down in camaraderie was on display as House Democrats bristled at comments by Robert Gibbs about the possibility of a Republican takeover of the House. All seemed mended by the end of the row, but not until House Speaker Pelosi had taken her pound of flesh during a face-to-face meeting with the President.

And funding for Afghanistan isn’t the first issue where Democrats have fallen out of step with the Administration. On financial reform, it was liberal senators who pushed the debate in the direction of strenghtening the proposed bill. As was revealed in John Heileman’s New York Magazine article on the subject, the White House spent much of its time trying to scuttle the strongest of amendments.

“Geithner’s team spent much of its time during the debate over the Senate bill helping Senate Banking Committee chair Chris Dodd kill off or modify amendments being offered by more-progressive Democrats. A good example was Bernie Sanders’s measure to audit the Fed, which the administration played a key role in getting the senator from Vermont to tone down. Another was the Brown-Kaufman Amendment, which became a cause célèbre among lefty reformers such as former IMF economist Simon Johnson. ‘If enacted, Brown-Kaufman would have broken up the six biggest banks in America,’ says the senior Treasury official. ‘If we’d been for it, it probably would have happened. But we weren’t, so it didn’t.”

Liberal and progressive Democrats have seemed to learned a major lesson over the past year and a half. Regardless of what they might have taken away from the President’s 2008 campaign, the Obama Administration is not inherently with them on any number of issues. If progressives and liberals want to achieve their goals, they will have to fight the Administration tooth and nail to do so.

And increasingly, liberal Democrats seem prepared to wade into that fight, more and more publicly it would seem.

As the President’s focus turns towards his promise to, “cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term,” in the coming months, Obama may well start to find that his legislative friends are located on the other side of the aisle. Which, of course, would make the prospects of a Republican resurgence in the midterms a lot less disconcerting for this Administration.  

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Scott Payne

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