Thursday 23 November 2017

Blow for Obama one year in as Democrats lose Kennedy seat

Tim Reid in Washington

US President Barack Obama was scrambling yesterday to save his entire domestic agenda after Democrats lost the late Edward Kennedy's senate seat, a defeat that dealt a blow to hopes of reforming the US health system.

The loss of an almost sacred Democratic seat, which Mr Kennedy had held for 47 years, was a humiliating upset that demonstrated to Mr Obama how popular anger has turned against his policies and his party, a year to the day after he took office.

Tuesday night's Massachusetts by-election defeat, in one of the most liberal states in America, stripped Mr Obama of his 60th, filibuster-proof vote in the US senate. It leaves the president with a dwindling number of options, all fraught with political risk, to push through the centrepiece of his legislative agenda.

Defection

More ominously, the victory by Scott Brown, who just a few days ago was a little-known Republican state senator, was in large part because of a mass defection among independents, the swing voters critical to Mr Obama's presidential victory but who have become alienated by his huge spending plans.

Independent voters also fled to Republican candidates in governor contests in New Jersey and Virginia two months ago. Their anger has turned sharply against Mr Obama and his party, a popular discontent that forecasts devastating losses in November's mid-term election and could even decide the fate of the presidency.

Mr Brown, who ran aggressively against Mr Obama's healthcare plan and his big-government agenda, made up a 30-point deficit in just a month to defeat Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts Attorney General, by 52pc to 47pc.

To chants of "41!, 41!" -- symbolising his new role as the critical 41st Republican vote in the senate -- Mr Brown declared: "This senate seat belongs to no one person, to no political party. This is the people's seat." His victory was the first Republican senate victory in Massachusetts since 1972.

The defeat triggered recriminations among Democrats. White House aides blamed Ms Coakley's lacklustre campaign, while her supporters said that the national party had done too little to help her.

Just a year after his inauguration, a powerful anti-incumbent mood has gripped many of the voters who backed Mr Obama's historic presidential campaign.

Mr Brown's victory also reflected what national polls have indicated for months: voters want Mr Obama to focus on job creation, instead of health reform, an issue that has consumed congress since June and upon which he has expended an enormous amount of political capital.

The most immediate challenge for Mr Obama is to determine a new path to health reform without a filibuster-proof majority.

With the house and senate having already passed separate bills that need to be reconciled, the reform is now in great peril because moderate Democrats, in danger of losing their seats this November, have been left unnerved by Mr Brown's victory.

However he proceeds, Mr Obama is likely to trigger a civil war between Democratic liberals and moderates. It is no longer inconceivable that Democrats could lose control of the House in November. (© The Times, London)

Irish Independent

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