Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 13, 2016

The Biggest Mistake of Obama’s Presidency?

President Barack Obama could have saved himself a lot of headaches, and potentially his presidential legacy, if he had done one thing: cultivated a relationship with Congress.

It doesn’t have anything to do with courting GOP leadership or caving to tea party conservatives. Multiple congressional Democrats believe the White House would be in a better position today if the president had made more of an effort to communicate with Democrats on the Hill from the beginning.

“When the stakes are high, negotiations are easier and smoother if there is a level of trust already established, ” one Democratic operative said.

Now Obama is in a precarious political position on Syria. He has asked members of Congress to take a potentially unpopular vote when many on Capitol Hill, even those within his own party, don’t entirely trust him or believe that the White House will offer adequate cover to those who support the president’s request.

The current situation isn’t the only time a better relationship with Congress would have been helpful.

In the first year of his presidency, Obama chose to take a hands-off approach to his health care measure. As a result, the bill took over a year to get done, the president didn’t spend a lot of time “selling” it after it passed, and the subsequent unpopularity contributed to Democrats’ losing 63 seats in the House in the 2010 elections.

While health care continues to get the most attention, many House Democrats still feel most burned by the so-called cap-and-trade bill from 2009.

According to Democratic operatives, many House members felt as if they walked the plank on the environmental bill — they voted for it, but when they turned around to look for support, there was little. The bill failed to pass the Senate, the White House wasn’t out selling the legislation, and a total of 52 House Democrats sacrificed their seats in 2010 (albeit not all of them voted for the bill). “It set the tone badly,” one House strategist said about the first year of the president’s first term.

Now there’s less incentive for fellow Democrats to follow on something as controversial as a military assault on Syria because they haven’t had much in the way of Obama’s support in the past. Earlier this year, the president might have gotten the benefit of the doubt on intelligence gathering if there had been more communication with the Hill previously.

In short, if the president had engaged members of Congress from the beginning of his tenure, even behind closed doors, some of his most challenging political moments could have been an easier lift. Democrats might even still be in the majority in the House if the health care and cap-and-trade bills had been handled differently. And that certainly would have an effect on the legacy that Obama leaves behind.

  • Zach

    That may be true – indeed, it almost certainly is – but when you’re dealing with an opposition that throws its OWN ideas under the bus when you propose them, you really can’t win.

    • James B.

      If a president can lead both parties in Congress, they can be great.

      If a president can lead their own party in Congress, they can still be good.

      If a president can’t lead their own party members, they are hopeless.

      President Obama is lucky if he is the second case.

      • Rob_Chapman

        Presidential greatness is function of popular leadership, not Congressional leadership.

        Most of the measures we view as milestones of American progress were passed despite the Congress.

  • mickeymat

    The failure to communicate with Congress pales in comparison to the complete and total incompetence of this administration. One would have to write a series of books to explain it all. If Congress went along with everything this corrupt executive and his minions have done they themselves would be in a heap of trouble. Oh wait……

    • xian

      i look forward. to reading that book when you’re done with the crayons

    • Rob_Chapman

      mickeymat appears to be making the same mistake that Team Romney made last year,
      They appear to believe that repeating what they hear in the GOP echo chamber makes it true.

  • ChangeHopeInAZ

    All I have heard about this president is that he can’t be trusted. If his mouth is opened, he is lying. What a wonderful commentary on our President after five years in office. The reason for these kind of comments is that Obama is a pure political animal and if you know anything about Chicago politics, you would understand why. For the last five years he has done everything he can to villify anyone who opposes him and especially Republicans so at this point in time, my feeling is any Republican that tries to work with him or his lackeys in the Democratic party should be castigated. He can’t be trusted to do the right thing and all the Republicans will do is set themselves up for taking the blame if he fails. He got himself in this mess so let him get himself out of it….oh and hit Reid and Pelosi up for some help and direction too since I am sure those mental midgets will have some real good suggestions!

    • easton

      yeah, who cares about dead children in Syria lets make it all about your feelings…
      what kind of solipsistic crap is this? Obama is irrelevent to the question of do we strike or not, unless you think our military itself is not capable.
      you people with your ODS are pathetic.

      There is but one relevant question: what should we do about Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
      otherwise stfu with your petty and childish whinging


        Certainly not any of the Liberals or Democrats. How many children have we murdered here in America under the infamous phrase of “Choice”??

        • xian


          an embryo is not a child, nor is a zygote.

          next question, please.

          • No Mass Amnesty

            When does an embryo become a child?

          • xian

            I recommend a good biology class, but the sequence goes: fertilized egg => zygote => embryo => fetus => birth.

            Colloquially, we generally start to use words like baby and child at birth, although there is, of course, the concept of an “unborn child,” since these aren’t truly medical concepts.

            But the main point is that there was a question about the murder of children. Abortion isn’t murder.

        • easton

          wait, let me get this straight, force women even if they are raped to have children, but don’t provide them medical care at all because that is socialism, then either force them to give up their own child because they can’t afford them or if they want to keep their own child don’t give a penny in support to them because that is socialism too.
          you are not pro-life, no repubs are, you have repubs saying that we must get rid of food stamps because if you don’t work you don’t eat, never mind that most adults with families who get food stamps work, and why the children should starve because the parent doesn’t make enough…well, that is Republican pro life.
          the most evil people in the world are these faux pro lifers because it is all about themselves.

      • ChangeHopeInAZ

        Don’t let me stop you from going over there and doing your duty to save the children just don’t drag America into another conflict with another Arab country. Besides, the real reason has nothing to do with “the children” anyway. If you think 1400 middle eastern lifes is the reason why we could get engaged than you are an idiot of the highest order.

        • easton

          so McCain and Graham and Kerry and Cameron and Hollande are all idiots of the highest order (all support action)? Even Germany has joined the United States and ten other members of the Group
          of 20 biggest economies in blaming the Syrian government for a chemical
          attack against civilians last month.

          I spent 15 years of my life in the 3rd world doing my duty to save children only returning to the states because I got married and have children myself. What have you done? now if you think I am supposed to go over there myself leaving my wife and children to die when our military can act without placing a single American soldier’s life in danger…you are just being a tool.

          and lord, if you don’t know about the international prohibition against chemical weapons and all the treaties signed, how it is considered a war crime to use them…then you are the idiot of the highest order.

          but in fact I know if Bush were President when this happened you would be cheerleading it yourself. And for the record I supported the Iraq war because Hussein was a cancer on the middle east and a war criminal himself.

          And I repeat again: There is but one relevant question: what should we do about Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

          • Rumionemore

            No, they are all very intelligent men, but they are all politicians. They are looking out for number one – themselves. And neither France nor England has committed to helping the U.S. England refused right off the bat, and France has become “iffy.”

          • easton

            yes, they are all politicians but so are the people in Congress or in Parliament who opposed it. How is it they are not looking out for number one?
            You can’t have it both ways. I am sure many who oppose it do so for pure reasons (though I disagree with Rand Paul and think he is an idiot he is not doing it for political reasons but because he believes it is right) as do many who support it. Yes, some oppose it because it is Obama (who were gung ho about invading Iraq) but some Democrats support it because of Obama too.

    • Rob_Chapman

      Az, you really need to get out more.

      Given that Maricopa County (Phoenix) and not Chicago is the nation’s premiere example of a repressive political machine, you REALLY need to get out more.

  • easton

    wow, what a load of sick nonsense. Somehow Assad using chemical weapons becomes an opportunity for Washington navel gazing.

    Here is a thought, who the cares how poor wittle congress’s feewings have been hurt because Obama hasn’t sucked up to them? Is it really so hard for Congress to put aside their insane partisanship and narcissism on an issue as grave as this?
    I don’t care about your party, just do what you were voted to do and that is look at the military intelligence given to you and then vote based on your judgment as to what is in the best interest of the country and the world.
    later on you can bicker all you want to about the farm bill and the like.

    • Rumionemore

      Look, everyone in D.C. is a cheese. What we as voters – and taxpayers – must learn is that we are on our own. The D.C. denizens are totally indifferent to us. Let them fight it out. Invest wisely. Save your money. Feel secure. Vote out the officials who have not supported bigger causes that benefit you and your state. Elect fresh new blood if they have the credentials. (In other words, a better resume than Obama had in 2008.)

      • easton

        um…wtf? seriously, wtf is that? Everyone is a cheese???

    • Rob_Chapman

      easton appears to be making John Kerry’s argument his own.

      Easton, how does America killing more Syrians to punish Assad for killing Syrians make any sense morally or militarily?

      • easton

        so soldiers who gas innocent children should just be able to continue to do so?
        we target military assets, if you are a Syrian soldier are you saying you shouldn’t be a target no matter what you do?
        look, I get that some soldiers are there not by choice but it is a war, soldiers die. targetting civilians with chemical weapons is a moral monstrosity beyond the realm of civilization. It is a war crime, point blank.

        now you can be a total pacifist (which is fine) or you can make distinctions between combatants and civilians and act accordingly.
        Are you a pacifist?

        • Rob_Chapman

          easton thanx for the comment.

          it is a false choice between supporting the idiocy coming out of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and doing nothing about the Syrian gas attack.

          Doing the right thing in Syria is important. The Senate Resolution makes international relations seem like a prison yard in which the biggest con enforces his will by sheer force.

          If the US is not strong enough vis a vis Syria to change the game and facilitate a peace process we should stay out of the conflict there altogether.

          Facilitating the peace process means taking action like reducing the flow of offensive military weaponry into Syria; providing more aid for refugeee; taking effective action to identify and punish the perpetrators of atrocities and brokering a justice and reconciliation process.

          Merely attacking Syria and killing the poor shnooks who happen to be in our bombing zone is scarcely less objectionable than the action we are purporting to punish.

          I am not willing to share your conviction that the Syrian government engaged in a war crime because they used gas in their attack. If the Syrian army troops had machine gunned the same people in the same place, would that be a war crime? My answer to that question is an unqualified yes. But I find it utterly unthinkable that US Secretary of State John Kerry would have spoken out against the machine gunning of all those people by the Syrian army. I think your support for Kerry’s position is utterly hypocritcal and not worth support.

          I am not a pacifist and I am hot blooded and pugnacious enough to know that if I were an Alawite or a Christian or a secularist living in Syria, I would support Assad and be happy that the government was willing to take the needed measures to protect me and my family from the reprisals certain to occur if the Sunnis gain power.

          Similarly, if I were a Sunni living in Syria, I would revel in attacking and killing the government soldiers and supporters who had oppressed my people and me for the past forty years.

          That is why I think it is so important that the USA act to end the spiral of violence, disarm everyone and work on peace, justice and reconciliation instead of killing the random, unlucky inidividuals who will be in OUR kill zone when the bombs start falling.

          • disconsolatechimera

            Gas. It’s about who gets to supply natural gas to Turkey and Europe.

          • easton

            well, genocide would qualify as a war crime if ordered by the leadership of a country, however a few soldiers shooting at civilians while being a war crime is an individual one. Only if there were standing orders from Assad to gun down every civilian would there be cause for direct action. This is what we did in Libya.
            It is not hypocritical to state chemical weapons are worse than conventional ones, anymore than it is to say that nuclear weapons are even worse. The point of civilization is to push the line further and further towards no war not towards wars where anything goes, genocide, use of nuclear weapons, use of chemical weapons just because people end up dead just the same.

            you have to draw lines somewhere, and for me the obvious ones are genocide, chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, and mines (though mines are not yet illegal I hope to see them be considered a war crime). You seek to erase all lines. Now if you say you want to draw the line at Nuclear weapons, then who is the hypocrit then?
            If you want to scrap the geneva convention, and every treaty known to man…well then god help us from your vision.

          • Rob_Chapman

            Only if there were standing orders from Assad to gun down every civilian would there be cause for direct action.

            the evidence strongly indicates the civilians are collateral damage.
            Making a difference between killing people with high explosives, bullets or napalm and killing them with sarin is hypocritical. Killing a civilian is a crime no matter what weapon is used. Alll such murders should be equally subject to consequences.

            The US postion is particularly hypocritical as we possess over 50,000 tons of chemical weapons and it was a BRITISH contractor who supplied Assad the chemical weapons. In maintaining these stockpiles the US has the option to deploy chemical weapons. The aquisesence to the British sale of sarin to Syria sends the message that it is ok for western companies to make money on selling chemical weapons, but the third world puchasers better not use what they bought and paid for. What kind of hypocrisy is that?

            Stating that all soldiers who kill civilians should be tried for murder is the opposite of erasing lines. Instead it is demanding that Conventions against the abuse of civilians be enforced vigourously and effectively.

            Hearing the US Secretary of State bitching about chemical weaponry after sitting silently by as ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND civilians were murdered is not drawing a line. It is instead making a travestry of international conventions to protect civilians caught between belligerants.

          • easton

            Instead it is demanding that Conventions against the abuse of civilians be enforced vigourously and effectively.
            How do you propose doing this?
            And as to the 100,000 civilians dead, I ask you then what precise number do you suggest we should have used force? 10,000? 25,000?
            Are you saying civilians who rise in revolt against a brutal dictator and use weaponry that kill civilians inadvertently (but knowing full well that civilians on the other side will likely die even if that is not their wish) should also be subject to punishment? A soldier, even if he is fighting for a dictator, has the right to defend himself when being shot at. Many Assad soldiers have no choice, either fight or see their own family killed.
            What are your solutions?

          • Rob_Chapman

            I would enforce the conventions to protect civilians in Syria in the following ways:
            Eliminate the flow of offensive weaponry into Syria.

            Expose and punish atrocities committed by both sides. This will take time, but with patience and purpose, it can be accomplished. Resolving this mess is not the work of a day or two, or of sharply limited interventions.

            Provide more humanitarian aid for the Syrian refugees.

            Accept leadership, from the countries that have a bigger stake in Syrian affairs, Turkey, Russia and the Arab League instead of trying to ram made in USA solutions down everyone’s throat.

  • Rumionemore

    It will be his biggest mistake if he goes ahead with the strike.
    The words “monumental mistake” come to mind. But who’s worrying about his career? Most Americans fear consequences and are coming to understand this whole matter is about saving face for Obama. I, for one, am not interested in this.

  • jimsepa

    I’m tired of the President being blamed for the inaction of the Congress. Congress is an EQUAL branch of our government. Unfortunately, we seem to have one of the most inept Congress of all time.

  • Rob_Chapman

    Obama’s difficulties with Syria appear to stem directly from his attempt to cultivate a relationship with Congress.

    The hard advocacy by Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham appear to be the locomotive pulling the train on Syria. Obama appears to be defering leadership to them in an attempt to achieve a bipartisan effort on this foreign policy intitative.

    The TEA Party seem to be the ones blowing up all the deals between POTUS and the GOP Congressional leadership, and there is no amoount of communication that is going to heal that rift.

    • Rumionemore

      I partially agree about the Tea Partiers, but Reagan, Bush and even Clinton found ways to work with their often-surly congresses and pass some pretty good legislation. Obama is a professor. If you’ve ever worked in academia, you would recognize that they are talkers – not doers. They wait for mountains to come to them. We hired this man with the thinnest resume ever to be the President of the United States of America. We are paying for rushing to judgment. No one in corporate America would have hired him for an executive level position.

      • Rob_Chapman

        We don’t hire officials, we elect them.

        Thinking that the government are hired hands reflects really sloppy thinking and it is not surprising to read that rely on such superficial non-sequiturs as “Obama is professor, therefore like the typical egghead he….”

        Unfortunately for the USA that sort of laziness has permeated the GOP and is highly exhibited by the rank and file members of the US House of Representatives and younger US Senators like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

        • Rumionemore

          Part of the problem we have with our elected officials is that we don’t do enough to hold them accountable. We should view that election as hiring them to do the jobs we are paying them for. Most of them live handsomely off taxpayers’ support. They would never dream of having to deal with the same old insurance plans we little people have – most certainly not affordable health care.

          If you really want to have a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, consider the life support we provide many of these officials, often those we don’t elect, like military higher-ups (schooling, salaries, benefits, transportation and in many cases, housing, and huge pensions). Take Gen. John Allen who, as a war commander, had time to send literally thousands of emails to a girlfriend. He was “cleared” of all charges by The Pentagon so he could collect his pension of reportedly $200,000 – per year. And Chuck Hagel also gave him a “special assignment” as his advisor. That’s not a volunteer job for the general.

          And since when is it just the GOP that is lazy? In fact, if you consider the Tea Party – like it or not – they are anything but lazy. They have been industrious enough to help change the make-up of Congress, especially the House. I don’t care for the TP tactics, but lazy is not a word I would use for them. But it does seem to apply to many voters who don’t do their homework about candidates and will go along with whatever media tell them.

          • Rob_Chapman

            The entire problem is that we don’t hold our elected officials accountable.

            The reason for not holding them accountable is because we use false metrics like treating them as employees.

            The most secure Congressional incumbents are in the districts in which rhetoric like “We hired Congressman X to do such and so.”

            There is a causal relationship between treating Congress like employees and having them walk all over their constituents.

          • Rumionemore

            Since when has the concept of gainful employment earned a negative connation?

          • Rob_Chapman

            Why is it that conservatives can only put words into others mouths to score points.

            Public service as an elected official is honorable employment. It is not being hired by the voters.

            The relationship between elected officials and the voters is between the governed and the governors not as that between master and servant, as is the basis of hired employee to the employer.

          • Rumionemore

            Rob, most people in the U.S. marketplace have not held supervisory positions, and even fewer, executive positions. But here’s my suspicion about you: you’ve never held a paying job. Consequently, this means you have never paid income taxes. Otherwise, you would have understood and even identified with my original comment.

          • Rob_Chapman

            Wow, Rumion, keep going around thinking that being one of thousands casting votes makes you an employer if it makes you feel better.

          • Rumionemore

            Actually, I was comparing what elected officials do to what I do and have done for years. As I said, employment is a respectable and desirable thing – for both employer and employee. If I go into work unprepared and blow off my assignments and my contract agreements, I would expect to be fired. Taxpayers have a right to expect the same of the people we elect to represent our best interests. For the most part, they are failing to do this.

    • PortageMain

      Well maybe if he hadn’t spent the last 5 years either ignoring Congress or abandoning them he might have some (Democrac) allies over there who would be willing to stick their necks out for him. In the absence of that he’s stuck courting Republicans who might go along with the idea of a strike on Syria despite not liking/trusting him. And POTUS finding himself at the whim of Republican Party politics

      • Rob_Chapman

        Boehner made a commitment to POTUS to support the Syria Resolution. The House GOP Caucus is reported to be 200 opposed to 32 backing the House Speaker and GOP leader Eric Cantor. This sort of GOP unreliability on agreements with POTUS has become the norm.

        The problems with Congress are the fault of POTUS?

        • PortageMain

          I’m just saying this didn’t all start the day before yesterday. POTUS hasn’t given anybody in Congress, Democrat or Republican, much reason to trust him in the last 5 years, as was laid out in the article. As a consequence, nobody is willing to stick their neck out for him now. And if there really are 200 Republicans in the House ready to vote against military action, it’s a lot broader movement than just the Tea Party. They can only wish they had 200 members. Looks like Boehner and Cantor got out a bit ahead of the flock.

          • Rob_Chapman

            Obama is the first post-WWII to explicitly and deliberately attempt to restore the constitutional balance with Congress.
            He does everything short of demanding the Dems become an auxilliary of the GOP to accomodate the opposition.

            A case in point is Obama’s adoption of McCain’s position on Syria at the end of August.

            The 200 GOP members of the House, 17 short of a majority who failed to back their own leadership are the source of the US government’s dysfunctionality.

            Leadership cannot exist if every brave thinks he is the chief.

  • Keith McRae

    Lindsay Graham just doesn’t get it, America is war weary, and we have nothing to gain from going into Syria but more death, more lives lost. Help elect a true conservative who does not believe in going to war in Syria. Lee Bright For Senate

Sign In

Forgot password?



Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...