Congressional Democrats were at war with the White House Tuesday, after the Senate rejected a procedural vote on President Obama’s top legislative priorities, and one prominent lawmaker essentially accused Obama of sexism over his criticism of Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Obama and Democrats have been feuding for weeks over the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trade Promotion Authority Bill he needs to approve the trade pact. Both sides fought their first pitched battle on the floor of the Senate Tuesday, and tensions have clearly escalated.
Obama has not been shy about criticizing Warren, the liberal Massachusetts senator who has been a leader of opposition to the trade deal in the upper chamber. “She’s absolutely wrong,” the president recently told Yahoo! News. “The truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else,” he said, using the dreaded p-word.
Tuesday afternoon, after the Trade Promotion Authority Bill failed, Sen. Sherrod Brown took a victory lap at a press conference. And when asked about Obama’s comments on Warren, the Ohio Democrat accused Obama of a sin rarely charged by a fellow party member. “I think the president was disrespectful to her, the way he did that,” Brown told reporters. “I think the president has made this more personal than he needed to.”
Brown went even further, before holding himself back. “I think referring to her as her first name, when he might not have done that for a male Senator, perhaps? I’ve said enough,” Brown added. He didn’t have to finish the thought for his intent to be understood.
Later, National Organization for Women President Terry O’Neill piled on, telling The Hill newspaper, “Yes, I think it is sexist.” O’Neill added that she thought Obama’s “clear subtext is that the little lady just doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
Allies of Obama quickly noted that the president regularly calls politicians of both genders by their first name, including both Brown and Warren, so far without objection.
Nonetheless, for a president accustomed to dishing out charges of sexism against the GOP rather than taking them – let alone from members of his own party – the charge will likely sting.
But Obama, for his part, has so far seemed to relish the fight with the left-flank of his own party. At a conference in Washington last month, the president dismissed the motives of liberal critics and riffed that their beliefs on trade were like “death panels.”
Progressives, who agree with Obama on almost everything else, were absolutely furious to have their own president compare them to Sarah Palin. They called it “shameful” and a “lashing out” that was only counterproductive.
Brown has previously criticized the White House for expending more energy on this free trade deal, which progressives hate, than on liberal agenda items.
The Trade Promotion Authority bill, which would fast-track the approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty, failed to overcome a Democratic filibuster in the Senate Tuesday after a group of pro-trade Democrats came out against it.
“Democrats just threw their own president under the bus,” Republican Sen. John Thune said at a press conference after the vote failed.
It was just a procedural vote and the measure is still alive, but the vote proved the White House will have to try even harder to succeed in this civil war, and it’s unclear if Obama’s strategy of going after liberals will help or hurt him.
While it only serves to infuriate trade opponents in Washington, Obama is vastly more well-known and popular among Democrats in the rest of the country than Warren, so he could be essentially trying to force voters to choose sides, confident that more will take his.