Obama left his party’s top senators, who had assembled for a conference call, hanging on the phone for nearly 20 minutes before National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling came on the line with a seemingly vague notion of what the call was supposed to be about, Democratic sources said.McCaskill apparently has had a change of heart since Friday.
The White House and Reid’s office did not comment for this article.
Reid has been Obama’s most important ally in Congress, but the relationship has never been particularly affectionate, even though Reid was one of Obama’s first Senate colleagues to privately urge him to run for president.
Obama and Reid speak frequently on the phone, but the conversations can be terse. One Democratic source quipped that it’s often a contest to guess who will hang up on the other first. Reid, as it turns out, doesn’t have a habit of saying goodbye when he ends a call.
The White House has had to rely on Reid because, unlike former President Clinton, Obama has little appetite for regularly calling Democratic lawmakers.
“I think one of the problems with the White House is that it’s been too set apart. It’s been too Chicago-centric, and it needs to get out,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). “Clinton didn’t just talk to four leaders, he picked up the phone and he kind of said, ‘I really need your vote on this.’ ”
While Obama has personally leaned on members for their votes on controversial bills, House and Senate Democrats have been frustrated with the White House’s communication.
Senate Democrats note that Reid has been Obama’s faithful soldier since the start of his presidency. White House officials view Reid as easier to work with than House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).
Reid made a huge contribution to Obama’s legacy by uniting all 60 members of his conference in 2010 to pass healthcare reform, despite misgivings from liberals and centrists alike.
But as Democratic lawmakers near a tough election, rank-and-file members feel less inclined to stand close to Obama.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who is seeking a second term in 2012, said she would not join Obama for a public appearance in Missouri on Tuesday, citing the Senate’s busy schedule.
One Democratic aide, whose boss is facing reelection in a swing state, said of Obama: “There are no coattails.”
Republicans will capture control of the Senate if they net four seats in 2012 (three if Obama loses). The map favors the GOP; Democrats are defending 23 seats, Republicans only 10.
McCaskill, up for reelection herself next year and a top target of Republicans hungry for video footage of her and the president, said she isn’t trying to avoid Obama.Republicans are a near lock to regain the Senate and considering Obama may be headed for a landslide defeat, grabbing 60 Senate seats may not be impossible. They still have a little bit of time to toss Obama overboard but their window of opportunity is dwindling.
“He’s the President of the United States. Of course I’ll be seen with him,” McCaskill said on Friday. “Whoever thinks that I’m going to avoid being seen with the president doesn’t know me very well.”
The NRSC is already goofing on McCaskill: