CAMBRIDGE, Md. — Democrats seem to be two different parties these days. Most House of Representatives Democrats love President Barack Obama and are eager to run on his record. Senate Democrats? Some yes, some no.
On Friday, Obama wrapped up a series of February meetings with congressional Democrats, sessions aimed at finding common ground on a host of contentious issues and plotting strategy for the November elections.
The president, speaking to House Democrats as they ended their three-day retreat at a Maryland Eastern Shore resort, offered a nine-minute pep talk that avoided any mention of contentious issues, notably trade. Obama wants legislation that would make it easier for the administration to get trade agreements. But doing so would dilute Congress’ say, so Democratic leaders are largely opposed.
Obama did not discuss trade. Instead, he said, “There are some big things that we have to do that I cannot do through executive action.” Among those, he listed an increase in the minimum wage and immigration.
He got warm applause. The House of Representatives’ 200 Democrats are largely pleased with the administration. Most are running in carefully drawn congressional districts where Obama remains popular.
“This is a very ideologically cohesive caucus,” said Sarah Binder, a senior fellow at Washington’s Brookings Institution. “They represent blue places.”
Senate Democrats often do not. Democratic-held seats in states that Republican Mitt Romney carried in 2012 — West Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Dakota, Alaska, Louisiana and Montana — are all seen as potential Republican wins. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to control the Senate next year.
Obama met with Senate Democrats last week at their Washington retreat and also spoke separately with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and party strategists. “My Democratic senators are a part of the team with President Obama,” Reid said afterward.
Maybe not. Obama’s support for gun control and his health-care program are highly unpopular in several swing states, despite assurances Friday from Vice President Joe Biden that “on every major issue people agree with the Democratic Party.”
A lot of Democrats would disagree. “I don’t care to have him campaign for me,” Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, where Obama’s Gallup approval rating last year averaged 33.5 percent, told CNN . “I’d rather him come up to see where his policies aren’t working.”
Swing-state senators’ reluctance to embrace Obama is widespread. After Obama gave his State of the Union address Jan. 28, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) said he was “disappointed” because “he was heavy on rhetoric, but light on specifics about how we can move our country forward.”
Pryor, whose state in 2013 gave Obama a 34.9 percent Gallup approval rating, offered his own specifics, disagreeing with Obama on gun control and farm policy.
“I had hoped he would strike a more bipartisan tone because, if recent history shows anything, red vs. blue is dead-end politics,” Pryor said.