President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank financial-reform legislation today; it's a signature legislative accomplishment that Democrats hope to campaign on this fall after Republicans sided with the financial sector en masse. White House communications guru David Axelrod told reporters the new law will offer a “clear, clear choice in November between folks who want to repeal and repeat the mistakes of the past ... and those of us who are trying to chart a better course for this country.”
Yet congressional Dems are already fuming about today's bill signing. Why? Because of the five members Obama praised by name for supporting the bill -- including Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, the two managers of the bill, and leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid -- one was Joseph Cao, the Republican who knocked off corrupt former Rep. William Jefferson but whose district, which leans heavily Democratic, is this year's top pickup opportunity for the majority party. They'll need every seat they can get if they want to stay that way.
Don't get me wrong, Cao's vote was a good decision, but he was not instrumental in preparing or passing the bill; votes like that ought to be routine for legislators. Obama also praised Republicans in the Senate who supported the bill, though not by name; none of those seats represents a target for Democrats this fall. While the sheen of bipartisanship is valued by the White House, pragmatists on the Hill argue little has been accomplished through inter-party cooperation this year and worry that practical politics should outweigh symbolism.
"Its just more irresponsible statements coming out from the White House in an election year," a veteran Democratic strategist e-mails. "Are Republicans spending their time trying to look bipartisan? Has it helped Obama with his agenda to be bipartisan or attempt to be? The sooner that this White House realizes that Obama is Commander in Chief but also head of the party -- the better. My guess is that they stay asleep at the wheel and end up roadkill this November."
This is another episode in a long-running narrative of discord between the White House and congressional Democrats, who were hoping to hear a more aggressive president now that most of Obama's substantive efforts in Congress are winding up for the summer. Instead, he's given Cao's campaign a very ad-worthy clip of presidential praise that will no doubt populate the airwaves of his district in November. It's a little glitch, but the little glitches add up.
-- Tim Fernholz