Tensions within the Democratic Party over policy and strategy have begun to surface after a midterm defeat that saw the party lose control of the Senate after eight years and cede more seats to Republicans in the House of Representatives.
The most glaring example came Tuesday, when Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, criticized President Barack Obama over the 2010 health care overhaul. Schumer said the party should have focused on helping more of the middle class than the uninsured, whom he called “a small percentage of the electorate." Schumer added that ObamaCare was just one of a "cascade of issues" that the White House had bungled, a list that included the scandal over wait times at VA hospitals and responding to the threat of the Ebola virus.
Schumer's remarks drew sharp criticism from former White House staffers, with former Obama campaign manager David Axelrod telling the Wall Street Journal "If your calculus is solely how to win elections, and that is your abiding principle, it leads you to Sen. Schumer’s position. But that’s precisely why big, difficult problems often don’t get addressed in Washington, and why people have become so cynical about that town and its politics."
On that same Tuesday, the White House surprised Democratic leaders in the Senate by threatening to veto a tax package negotiated by both parties. The White House statement said the deal would help "well-connected corporations while neglecting working families" because it did not include a proposal backed by liberals to make tax credits for the working poor permanent.
Ahead of the 2016 presidential race, Democrats find themselves at odds over what economic message to present to voters. Worried that they lacked a compelling position in the midterms, the party is split over whether to advance a centrist message or a more populist economic argument that casts everyday families as victims of overly powerful corporations and benighted government policies.
“You’re going to get a fight within the Democratic Party," Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-NY, told the Journal, adding that what he called "a substantial disagreement was looming between the progressive and centrist wings of the part, the latter of whom fear that liberal economic policy proposals are unpalatable to most voters.
In contrast to the rifts so prominent in the Republican Party, Democratic infighting has largely been out of public view since Obama was elected president in 2008. But following the defeats earlier this month, the strife broke into the open. The Wednesday after the election, Harry Krone, chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., criticized President Obama in The Washington Post for not transferring millions of dollars in party funds to struggling campaigns.
Another flashpoint between the White House and congressional Democrats has been immigration, with House Democrats criticizing Obama for delaying the timing of his executive orders on immigration until after the midterm elections in what they saw as a misguided effort to save vulnerable senators. As a result, they believe, the delay hurt turnout among Hispanics and contributed to Republicans expanding control of the House by at least 10 seats.