Democrats Desert Their President

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from The New York Times,

He made it personal. He appealed to their loyalty. He asked them to give him what every modern president has had. He argued the facts, disputed the politics, quarreled over the history and at times lashed out at those who still refused to stand with him.

Yet in the end, after years of frustration with Republicans blocking his ideas in Congress, President Obama on Friday found the most sweeping legislative initiative left on his agenda thwarted not by the opposition but by his own party. If not for his fellow Democrats, Mr. Obama would have a landmark trade bill heading to his desk for signature.

The sting of defeat may be temporary. The White House adamantly insisted on Friday that it made important progress by passing part of the trade package and still has a chance to turn around the vote on the other part. If that proves true, Mr. Obama may yet secure the negotiating authority he needs to seal a legacy-building 12-nation Pacific trade agreement and the day’s setback may ultimately be overshadowed.

But for the moment, at least, the defeat laid bare a fundamental schism within the party over economics and, according to some analysts and officials, exposed a stark divide between Democratic lawmakers and a Democratic president late in his tenure. Once eager to support Mr. Obama, Democrats now are less willing to buck their own labor-dominated base or their own convictions to advance their president’s program.

“It’s a nasty little issue that cuts in the party badly,” he added. But he said it also speaks to years of frustration among Democrats who feel that when it comes to Mr. Obama, “you call me only when you want something.”

Others said the defeat had more to do with policy and politics. After decades of watching presidents secure trade agreements from South Korea to Mexico, even in the face of opposition from their base, Democrats have broadly come to the conclusion that such agreements exacerbate income inequality.

Mr. Earnest insisted that the day’s events were a victory for the president, even if an incomplete one. But that portrayal did not ring true even to some of Mr. Obama’s supporters on Capitol Hill. Representative Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat who backed Mr. Obama on Friday, said the results “hobbled a Democratic president and told the world that we prefer that China set the rules and values that govern trade in the Pacific.”

Mr. Obama’s struggle reflected his longstanding distance from Capitol Hill, irritating members of both parties. He devoted more time and effort in lobbying lawmakers on this issue than any since House Republicans took control after the 2010 election, but even then he delegated most of the arm-twisting to his unpopular trade representative, Michael Froman.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, took up much of the oxygen on the debate, criticizing trade deals on television as the White House tried to seduce those on the fence, and while the Senate ultimately voted for trade authority, the president could not overcome the resistance in the House.

As Friday’s votes seemed increasingly in doubt, Mr. Obama reached out directly to lawmakers, directly rebutted Ms. Warren, and seemed genuinely and publicly invested in the outcome in a way he rarely appeared to be on gun control, climate, taxes and even immigration measures that have come before and failed in Congress.

At the same time, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader who generally uses her muscle to impose her will on her caucus, remained oddly in a mystery zone, pulled by liberals in one direction and conflicted by her loyalty to the president in the other. The White House found her cryptic throughout.

As they seek to regroup this weekend, the president and his fellow Democrats will now experience the same thing Republicans have for the last few years — a narrative of their party divided and in disarray.

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