Trump’s trouble: Obama won’t go away

With an unpredictable foe in the White House, the national party in disarray and even more congressional losses looming in 2018, Democrats are begging Barack Obama to keep himself in the headlines after he leaves office.

He’s eager to deliver.

According to a dozen prominent Democrats, Obama is planning a more politically active post-presidency than perhaps any other previous U.S. leader in modern times. Obama will work to rebuild the beleaguered party, mentor and train young people and plan strategy with Democratic lawmakers, possibly campaigning and raising money.

“The reality of a Trump administration has sunk in,” said Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a member of the Democratic National Committee from South Carolina and a state legislator there. “You have someone trying to erase your legacy. You have to do all that you can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Obama, 55, departs the White House as a relatively young man with high approval ratings and an unusual plan to stay in Washington, leaving him in the middle of some of the same political fights he fought over the last eight years. The last president to remain in Washington after leaving office was Woodrow Wilson in the 1920s.

“Living in Washington is probably — for former presidents who kind of want to get away from it — is not the place to be,” said Leon Panetta, who served as Obama’s secretary of defense and CIA director. “It’s going to be a tough balance for him to have to work to be responsible in retirement and at the same time try to address the policy differences with the Trump administration.”

Obama expects to work largely behind the scenes to rebuild the Democratic Party after largely failing to do so while in the White House, to prepare more young people to get involved in politics and to lobby for state redistricting maps that could allow Democrats more chances to win seats.

“Obama is not going away,” said Lee Hamilton, a Democrat who served in Congress for more than three decades. “For the time being, he is still the most prominent Democrat. They are going to look to him. He is the leader of the party.”

Democrats want — and expect — him to consult with lawmakers about policy, raise money for Democrats and campaign for candidates even as he spends time designing his presidential library in Chicago and mentoring young minority men through his My Brother’s Keeper program.

The political organization that grew out of his campaign to focus on his policy agenda, Organizing for Action, is expected to continue operating after he leaves office, according to former Obama staffers. The group did not respond to a request for comment.

“He basically said he envies us because he’d like to be still in office to some degree to fight with us,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., told reporters after Obama met with Democrats on Capitol Hill last week. “But he was very clear that as a citizen, he was going to lend his voice to this.”

Obama has repeatedly said he plans to honor a tradition of former presidents not criticizing their successors. But with a president in the White House trying to erase his achievements and questioning American institutions, even Obama’s spokesman acknowledged a more vocal Obama is now a possibility.

“If there are basic, fundamental American values that are undermined by a specific policy proposal, then he may feel the need to speak out,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

Democrats say Obama may do that by doing what he often did during the presidential campaign: speaking in broad terms about what he calls American values without uttering Trump’s name.

“I think when he talks about America, it will be clear about what’s he is talking about without being overt,” said Matt Bennett, who worked for former President Bill Clinton until his last day in office and later co-founded Third Way, a center-left research center.

In recent weeks, Obama has embarked on a long farewell from the White House.

He held a star-studded goodbye party for friends at the White House attended by Meryl Streep, George Clooney and Beyonce. He instructed his Cabinet secretaries to release long lists of their accomplishments. And he will deliver his farewell address in his hometown of Chicago on Tuesday.

Former Republican and Democratic Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush held similar events, though Bush’s were more subdued since he was leaving with low approval ratings, their aides say. Former President George H.W. Bush was more reserved after losing his bid for a second term to Clinton, an aide says.

Obama would have likely engaged in some of the same activities if Hillary Clinton had won, but ever since Trump defeated her, Obama’s goodbye has taken on a different tone.

“When you are caught off guard, it adds to the urgency,” said Jonathan Felts, who worked for George W. Bush until his last day in office.

Obama is trying to ensure the history books reflect his accomplishments — and to motivate Democrats to defend them.

“It’s pointed entirely to Democratic officeholders in Congress and the states to take heart and not take it lying down,” said Don Fowler, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “It’s a bulwark against Trump. I know if Secretary Clinton had been elected it would be an entirely different posture.”

Lynda Tran, who served as national press secretary for Organizing for America, said Obama’s activities had taken on an “urgent” tone now that there was a “realization and understanding that many things are going to be under fire.”

Max Stier, founding president of the Partnership for Public Service, which launched the nonpartisan Center for Presidential Transition, said that often when a president touted his legacy it could help solidify those accomplishments.

Obama, for example, adopted George W. Bush’s efforts on combating malaria and AIDS in Africa. “The focus is how to institutionalize the change the incumbent has brought,” Stier said.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Politics

Democrats tell DeVos her “head is in the sand” on racial bias
Democrats tell DeVos her “head is in the sand” on racial bias

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defended her agency’s commitment to minority students in a wide-ranging hearing in which congressional leaders pressed DeVos on her department’s budget.  DeVos testified before the House Appropriations Committee, fielding questions on the Education Department’s budget request for the fiscal year...
Barron Trump’s school joins call for president to enact gun control — and not to arm teachers
Barron Trump’s school joins call for president to enact gun control — and not to arm teachers

The leaders of more than 125 private independent schools in the Washington, D.C., area are calling on President Donald Trump and Congress to enact "vigorous" gun-control measures and warning that arming teachers - an idea the president supports — is "dangerous and antithetical to our profession as educators." Participating...
How researchers learned to use Facebook “Likes” to sway your thinking
How researchers learned to use Facebook “Likes” to sway your thinking

Perhaps at some point in the past few years you’ve told Facebook that you like, say, Kim Kardashian West. When you hit the thumbs-up button on her page, you probably did it because you wanted to see the reality TV star’s posts in your news feed. Maybe you realized that marketers could target advertisements to you based on your interest...
Clamor grows over Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg’s public silence about Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica crisis
Clamor grows over Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg’s public silence about Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica crisis

Facebook released a statement on Friday — in advance of bombshell media reports that a data analytics firm improperly accessed the personal information of its users — that was signed by its deputy general counsel and said it was suspending an organization from its platform. Another unsigned statement released Monday said the social media...
McCabe was asked about press contacts on the day Comey was fired
McCabe was asked about press contacts on the day Comey was fired

The troubles that led to the ouster of Andrew McCabe as FBI deputy director began the same day that his boss, James Comey, was fired, when FBI investigators exploring media leaks approached McCabe for a conversation, people familiar with the matter said.  The investigators, who reported to McCabe, wanted to know about his dealings with the press...
More Stories