United States Department of State

A Brief History of President Obama Not Having Any Friends

Obama's aversion to schmoozing isn't new.

Once again, we're reminded that President Obama is aloof and hasn't made friends in Congress, even with his fellow Democrats, thanks to a new story from The New York TimesThe Times story interviews several Democrats, including Sen. Harry Reid's chief of staff, Sen. Joe Manchin and others, most of whom grumbled about not wishing Obama would try harder to help them out.

Obama's aversion to schmoozing isn't new, something The Times admits, writing "grumbling by lawmakers about a president is nothing unusual." But!:

What is striking now is the way prominent Democrats’ views of Mr. Obama’s shortcomings are spilling out into public, and how resigned many seem that the relationship will never improve.

Reid's discontent, voiced by his staffer, is pretty high profile complaining, but there's never been a shortage of politicians, including Democrats, ready to decry Obama's aloofness. Over the years dozens of stories have described the relationship between a president who wants to be "above it all" and members of Congress who want the president to pose for photos they can hang on their walls:

7/26/14: Democrats And Republicans Complain Obama Is Too Aloof With Congress

After the president requested $3.7 million to deal with the border crisis, several Congress members complained about "ad hoc approach that shuns appeals to opponents and doesn't reward allies," according to the Associated Press. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat, said "I try never to negotiate against myself, that's all I can tell you," in reference to the way the White House handled things. Congress has yet to pass a border bill.

7/9/14: Dem. Rep. Rips Obama: 'Aloof,' 'Bizarre,' and 'Detached'

Rep. Henry Cuellar told MSNBC that it was "bizarre" that the president didn't visit the border during his trips to Colorado and Texas last month. "He either can roll up his sleeves and go down to the border, or he can just look aloof and detached and not go to the border, send surrogates down there, and say that he's got everything under control," Cuellar said. "It Just floored me, because if he's saying he's too busy to go to the border but you have time to drink beer, play pool." Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, is up for re-election

6/1/2014: "The Obama Paradox"

Politico dived deep into the president's new state of mind at the end of his presidency — he's looking to his future but also doing things he wants to do, like socializing with celebrities. But his new social stance didn't extend to catching up with lawmakers. "When Democratic lawmakers gather in private, their complaints about Obama’s perennial lack of outreach to them are frequent and sustained," Politico noted.

Fall 2012: Schmooze or Lose

Before the 2012 election, there was speculation that the president's inability to schmooze with wealthy Democratic donors might cost him the presidency. Obama failed to schedule a high profile meeting with billionaire George Soros, he "found this back-door treatment confounding. 'He feels hurt,' a Democratic donor," told The New Yorker that AugustA September New York Times profile of white House advisor Valerie Jarrett blamed the snub on her and noted that "Soros, who has spent tens of millions of dollars on Democratic candidates and causes, is largely sitting on the sidelines this presidential election." 

Another Times piece from September 2012 summed it up with: "His relationship with most Democratic members of Congress lies somewhere between correct and cold. They believe that personal political loyalties are not an Obama priority."Obama countered by saying he'd rather spend time with his kids than with donors.

1/9/2012: "...One of the criticisms people make about your style of diplomacy is that it’s very cool, it’s aloof"

In 2012, Obama started pushing back against the idea that bad personal relationships were at the root of Congressional gridlock. "You know, the truth is, actually, when it comes to Congress, the issue is not personal relationships," he told Fareed Zakaria at Time. "My suspicion is that this whole critique has to do with the fact that I don’t go to a lot of Washington parties." That's why, he argued, the D.C. press corps paint him as aloof, but really he's just spending time with his kids.

10/7/11: "Obama, the Loner President"

Writing for The Washington Post, Scott Wilson argued that Obama had a people problem that would factor into his re-election campaign. "His relationship with Democrats on Capitol Hill is frosty, to be generous," Wilson wrote. "Personal lobbying on behalf of legislation? He prefers to leave that to Vice President Biden, an old-school political charmer."

December 2010: "$#!% Joe Biden Says"

Vice President Joe Biden offered a Bidenesuq explanation for the president's aloofness during a GQ interview: "There's nothing aloof about him ... I think what it is, is he's so brilliant. He is an intellectual."

8/2/10: "Obama vs Congressional Black Caucus"

Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post noted that the CBC was upset with the president over his criticism of Rep. Charlie Rangel (engaged in an ethics scandal), and "much of politics is about relationships, and the simple fact is that Obama does not have long ties with many of the CBC members outside of the Illinois delegation, according to a source familiar with the caucus."

10/2/08: "Barack Obama is 'aloof' says British ambassador to US"

Back when Obama was just the frontrunner in the upcoming election, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the British ambassador, argued that the future president was "maybe aloof, insensitive," The Telegraph reported. He also called him "decidedly liberal," but praised his star quality and oratory skills.