The Washington Post

Obama not ‘offended’ if vulnerable Dems stay away

(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Updated 5:30 p.m.

President Obama huddled with Senate Democrats at a ballpark Wednesday, but the only game they discussed were the 2014 midterm elections.

Obama spent about an hour Wednesday afternoon behind closed doors at the Diamond Club, a swanky lounge at Nationals Stadium where Senate Democrats held their annual one-day policy retreat. He was accompanied by his new legislative affairs director, Katie Fallon, and new political adviser John Podesta.

The conversation touched on the Affordable Care Act, new proposals to boost U.S. manufacturing and Obama's personal concerns about the historic levels of super PAC money expected to be spent on Senate races this year, according to a senator in the room.

But most importantly, "The president said that he is thoroughly committed to helping Democrats in tough races," the senator said. "He said he knew he is not popular in some of the states so he would not be offended if he were not invited to visit them this year. But he said he could be helpful in some parts of some states."

The senator, who requested anonymity in order to speak frankly about private conversations, wouldn't say which states Obama mentioned.

The conversation “was more policy than politics,” according to another person in the room. There was a brief discussion about differences between Obama and some congressional Democrats about ongoing trade talks with Asian and European countries, “but no disagreements,” said the person, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the meeting.

The discussion comes amid rising anxiety among some Democrats about how the president’s declining popularity might affect the party’s ability to maintain control of the Senate. Republicans are increasingly hopeful of picking up six or more seats to narrowly retake control of the chamber.

Aides to two of the most at-risk Democrats – Mark Begich (Alaska) and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) – confirmed that their bosses attending the meeting.

Another embattled Democrat, Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.), sought to put some distance between herself and the president on Tuesday, ahead of the meeting.

“I think the president is more focused on running the country than helping me in my reelection,” she said.

One of the most at-risk Democratic senators, Landrieu is expected to focus her reelection campaign on issues of her concern to her home state as much as possible. When reporters pressed her on what she would want to discuss with Obama, she cited “sustainability issues” in Louisiana and ongoing concerns among several lawmakers about the federal flood insurance program.

Later Wednesday, Senate Democrats are set to dine with former president Bill Clinton, who is expected to actively campaign for Democratic candidates nationwide throughout the year.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.



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