As Democrats pushed this month to pass the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, they were eager to rebuke Republicans for opposing en masse a measure filled with aid to struggling Americans. But they had another target as well: the core policy of President Barack Obama’s first-term agenda.
Party leaders from President Biden on down are citing Mr. Obama’s strategy on his most urgent policy initiative — an $800 billion financial rescue plan in 2009 in the midst of a crippling recession — as too cautious and too deferential to Republicans, mistakes they were determined not to repeat.
The pointed assessments of Mr. Obama’s handling of the 2009 stimulus effort are the closest Democrats have come to grappling with a highly delicate matter in the party: the shortcomings in the legacy of Mr. Obama, one of the most popular figures in the Democratic Party and a powerful voice for bipartisanship in a deeply divided country.
The re-examination has irked some of the former president’s allies but thrilled the party’s progressive wing, which sees Mr. Biden’s more expansive plan as a down payment on his ambitious agenda. And it has sent an early signal that Mr. Biden’s administration does not intend to be a carbon copy of his Democratic predecessor’s. Times, all concede, have changed.
“This time, the feeling was, ‘We’re not very willing to negotiate what we think is needed,’” said former Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota who retired ahead of the 2010 midterm elections. “In 2009, I think the feeling was, ‘Oh we wanted more, but we didn’t get what we wanted.’”
The careful dance around Mr. Obama and his accomplishments continues a dynamic from the Democratic presidential primary. While taking care not to disparage his administration, several candidates stressed the need for the party to embrace a more take-no-prisoners political approach with Republicans; others criticized Mr. Obama’s policies on immigration: though he used an executive order to aid the Dreamers, he also pushed deportations and border detentions. [Continue reading…]