CAMBRIDGE: US President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats in the House of Representatives face a key question when they meet on Friday, Valentine’s Day: how much love do they dare show each other before the November elections.
Obama will address House Democrats on the final day of their three-day retreat in this waterfront town, which has lawmakers buzzing about policy and politics and edgy about their Election Day chances.
“The president recognizes that there’s some tension,” said Democratic Representative John Larson of Connecticut.
With Obama’s approval ratings down to about 43 percent and the president still struggling with criticism of the troubled rollout of his signature healthcare law, some Democrats up for reelection do not want to be seen with the president at campaign events in their states.
At a private meeting with Senate Democrats in Washington last week, Obama said he understood and did not feel insulted, said one senator, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The president realizes some Democrats will have a better chance of winning without him around,” the senator said.
All 435 House seats along with 36 of the 100 Senate seats are up for grabs in the November election.
Republicans are expected to retain the House, which they now control 232-200, with three vacancies. They also hope to seize control of the Senate, which Democrats hold, 55-45.
Regardless of concerns about Obama, he will help his party rally its liberal base, raise money and make its case to voters.
In Cambridge, Democrats have been discussing their policy agenda, which includes raising the minimum wage and taking other steps to reduce the gap between the rich and poor.
Democrats have applauded Obama for vowing to accomplish some goals through executive actions if Republicans resist. But Democrats have expressed frustration that the president does not always show a lot of fire.
Their meeting with Obama on Friday, a portion of which will be open to the news media, follows a private session last week at the White House.
Several of those who attended that private session said both sides showed some tough love and frustration, along with some frank and warm exchanges. They said a number of House Democrats lined up to ask Obama questions and challenge him on domestic as well as foreign policies.
Representative Larson recalled that one lawmaker asked Obama why he did not fire anyone for the botched rollout of his healthcare program. He said the president responded: “‘Because it’s my responsibility. We messed up. My bad. But we’ll fix it. You have my word.’ He could not have been more blunt.”
The president took questions for about 45 minutes and then, in a rarity for him, hung around for another hour to talk with members one on one.
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