Former President Barack Obama had a simple message for Democrats fearing losing their majority in the 2022 midterm elections:
“We have a story to tell, we just have to tell it,” he said in response to NBC News’ Peter Alexander.
The former president received a standing ovation as he returned to the White House for the first time since leaving the Oval Office in 2017 to mark the 12th anniversary of the passage of his signature healthcare bill, the Affordable Care Act, nicknamed Obamacare in the press.
Mr. Obama has kept a low profile for the most part, but his return to the White House after not returning during Donald Trump’s presidency felt like a reunion when Mr. Obama occupied the White House in very similar political circumstances to President Joe Biden .
Mr. Obama seemed to slip easily back into his familiar role.
“Thank you, Vice President Biden,” he said with a laugh, nodding that Mr. Biden was his number two and most energetic attack dog on both Capitol Hill and the campaign trail for eight years. “That was a joke.”
The former president rattled off a number of his achievements during his tenure in the White House, including passing the American Recovery Act, lifting a ban on gay and lesbian Americans in the US military and bailing out the auto industry.
“But nothing has made me prouder than providing better health care and more protection to millions of people in this country,” he said.
Mr. Obama’s return to commemorate the health care bill, which Mr. Biden called the “big F-King deal” at the time of its signing in 2010, to which Mr. Obama alluded in his remarks, also made it clear that Mr. Biden was in a Parallel is position to its predecessor.
“To get the law through, we had to make compromises,” he said. “We didn’t get everything we wanted. That was no reason not to do it. If you can provide health insurance and better protection to millions of people, to quote a famous American, it is ‘quite a big deal’.”
Like Mr. Biden, Mr. Obama dealt with Republicans who rebuffed his attempts at negotiating health care, resulting in him having to negotiate with conservative Democrats in the Senate and Blue Dogs in the House of Representatives.
Mr. Biden has had to negotiate his Build Back Better signature initiative with moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, as well as blue dogs like Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida, who is retiring at the end of this year. Mr. Biden has had to largely dodge Republicans to try to push his domestic political agenda through reconciliation to avoid a GOP filibuster.
Indeed, Vice President Kamala Harris — who wasn’t even in a statewide race in California at the time Obamacare was signed and was running for attorney general — spoke before Mr Obama’s remarks about how the administration hoped to pass legislation to help Medicare negotiating drug prices. This legislation is part of Build Back Better, and many Democrats in both houses spent hours negotiating with the White House before Mr. Manchin effectively killed Build Back Better in December.
Mr. Biden also faces low approval ratings that threaten the Democratic majority, much like how Mr. Obama’s approval ratings — which at the same time were not as low as Mr. Biden’s current ones during his presidency — meant bad news for Democrats.
Republicans largely blamed Obamacare’s unpopularity in the midterms of 2010, which resulted in the GOP winning 63 House seats in what Mr. Obama famously called “shellacking.” Mr Obama noted the political bravery of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who lost the speakership in 2010 after many Democrats lost their races, and the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who died late last year.
“I intended to push through health care, even if it would cost me re-election, which seemed like it for a while,” he said. “But for all of us, for Joe, for Harry, for Nancy Pelosi and for others, the ACA was an example of why you’re running for office in the first place.”