VA Scandal Exacerbated the Growing Rift Between President and Party

The Veterans Affairs scandal is deepening a rift between Congressional Democrats—especially those running in tough districts—and the Obama Administration. The dustup is just the latest in an increasingly fraught relationship between the president and his fellow party members.

The problems began very early in President Obama’s first term when Congressional Democrats felt they were not getting the attention they deserved. Even as far back as July 2008 Capitol Hill Democrats began to complain that the President’s campaign was “insular, uncooperative and inattentive” to their ideas.

“They think they know what’s right and everyone else is wrong on everything,” one angry senior Senate Democratic aide” told POLITICO. “They are kind of insufferable at this point.”

Over the next few years the president did little to mend relationships. Even as he came to be known for his ability to communicate, members privately groused that he seemed to avoid personal contact with members.

“One of the problems with the White House is that it’s been too set apart. It needs to get out,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said of the Obama Administration. “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.”

The chilly relationship finally seemed to freeze over in the wake of the botched Obamacare rollout. Time’s Alex Rogers reported:

After a Wednesday morning meeting with two Obama Administration officials involved in the new online health ­insurance marketplace, House Democrats could not specifically identify the site’s problems, much less explain how long the contractors would need to fix them. The Department of Health and Human Services, which administers the federal insurance exchange, initially blamed high traffic, but has since acknowledged issues with the site’s software, affecting tasks as essential as creating an account.

After the meeting, many Democrats expressed anger at the way the matter was being handled by the White House. “Some of us, myself included, are somewhat resentful [and] upset, about the apparent incompetency in designing and rolling this thing out,” said Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.). “Who was it that said we are going to go ahead knowing it doesn’t work?”

One lawmaker, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, even said that the problematic implementation had created a “crisis of confidence.”

Unfortunately, for the administration little has happened to engender any confidence in President Obama’s leadership ability. Indeed, his disastrous approval ratings are widely acknowledged to be dragging down the flagging hopes of Democrats running for Senate. The recent scandal at Veterans Affairs, in which service members were placed on secret waitlists in order to hide how long it was taking for them to receive care, has once again stoked the fires of resentment.

“Forget for a moment that Republican outrage,” John King said on his CNN show today. “more and more Democrats in key 2014 races are calling for the president to get a spine, they say, and fire his Veterans Affairs secretary. And what more and more Democrats are saying privately is scathing, calling the president and his team ‘detached, flat footed and even incompetent.’”

The growing rift between party and president is even spreading to candidates, many of whom are displaying reluctance to embrace Obama and his signature bill.

Michelle Nunn the Democrats’ candidate in Florida refuses to say how she would have voted on Obamacare, calling it “impossible” to look back “and say what would you have done.” Natalie Tennant in West Virginia likewise stumbled over the issue, saying little other than, “The fact is, I didn’t vote for it.” And Alison Lundergan Grimes of Kentucky twice refused to answer whether she would have supported Obamacare, instead promising to “work to fix” it once she was elected.

Given all of the negative feelings and awkward distancing the question becomes – if Democrats in Congress are unhappy with President Obama and his signature bill, why on earth should we vote for a party he leads?