• May 24, 2024

Biden’s struggles draw Obama back into the spotlight

 Biden’s struggles draw Obama back into the spotlight

Former President Barack Obama is ramping up his involvement in Washington politics as a tricky midterm cycle approaches for Democrats a year after his vice president settled into the top job at the White House.

Obama spoke at the COP26 climate conference in November, pushed for Senate filibuster reform in January, criticized Alabama’s redistricting map last week, and spoke to a group of House Democrats on Thursday.

The spate of activity has party boosters expecting to see a more prominent role for the 44th president in 2022.

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“You’re going to see more and more of the former president the closer we get to November and the midterm elections,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “He kept a very low profile to leave the limelight to Biden in his first year, but he is a big political asset for the Democrats, and you’ll see more and more of him.”

While President Joe Biden says he wants to spend more time on the campaign trail this year, his status as a Democratic asset sits in doubt due to approval ratings stuck in the low 40s. Several prominent Democratic candidates have skipped Biden events in their home states, including Georgia’s Stacey Abrams and Pennsylvania’s John Fetterman. However, vulnerable Virginia Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger did appear with Biden on Thursday.

Obama, in contrast, remains widely popular five years after leaving office. Liberal talk show host Bill Maher joked recently that Obama and Biden should stage a sham marriage so Obama could run the country as “first lady.”

Leaving office at just 55 years old, Obama is one of the youngest former presidents, which led to wide speculation about what he might do in the decades ahead.

Jimmy Carter is often seen as an active former president, meeting with foreign leaders and engaging in freelance diplomacy, among other successful ventures. Richard Nixon also met with foreign leaders after leaving office, and several ex-presidents were involved during Bill Clinton’s push to create the North American Free Trade Agreement.

David Garrow, author of Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama, says Obama’s post-presidency to date has been low-key and quiet, similar to George W. Bush.

“Going back five years, it was astonishing how Barack and Michelle had chosen to descend into this sort of vacuous life of hanging out with celebrities,” he said. “Why would a former president want to spend an inordinate amount of time hanging out with Bruce Springsteen?”

Obama launched a podcast with Springsteen last year and has a deal with Netflix to produce films and shows, though Garrow doubts he has much day-to-day involvement with them.

“He once self-critically described himself as lazy and blamed his growing up in Hawaii for that,” Garrow said of Obama. “Without a job and a staff that requires him to commit himself, he’s just sort of laid back.”

But Obama’s recent forays back into politics has partisans such as Bannon hopeful that Obama will become a larger figure as Democrats try to avoid disaster in the fall. A wave of retirements has already been announced by House Democrats clinging to a small majority.

“You can put Barack Obama anywhere. With suburban voters, with black voters, he’s very popular, and I’m just glad to see him back in action,” Bannon said.

Still just 60 and a Washington resident, Obama is two decades younger than Biden, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, or House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

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Given his relative youth and popularity among Democrats, Obama will have wide leverage to define his post-presidency as he sees fit, Bannon argues.

“Maybe there’s a Supreme Court appointment in his future. I don’t know if he’s interested in that or not,” Bannon said. “His role in the Democratic Party is going to be whatever he wants it to be.”

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