In a viral video, former President Barack Obama soaked up admiration on his Tuesday return to the White House — and President Joe Biden was left on the outside looking in.
It was Obama’s first time returning to the White House in more than five years. Ostensibly meant to savor the 12th anniversary of his health care law, the 44th president’s visit felt more like a stump speech to boost Biden’s flagging popularity.
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Critics said video showing Democrats flocking to Obama — and leaving Biden in the cold — had the opposite effect.
The Affordable Care Act has survived repeated repeal attempts by Republicans.
Biden, who was Obama’s No. 2 when “Obamacare” became law in March 2010, is attempting to extend the law’s reach to even more than the current millions. He gave all the credit for the original law to the former president.
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“It’s because of you,” Biden said after introducing himself as Obama’s vice president. Biden said the law “shows hope leads to change,” a play on Obama’s “hope and change” campaign slogan.
Obama was last at the White House on Jan. 20, 2017, when he left to escort Donald Trump to the Capitol to be inaugurated. He spent more than four hours Wednesday meeting with Biden and greeting White House staff in what was hoped would be a morale boost for the administration.
“It’s good to be back in the White House. It’s been awhile,” he said after Vice President Kamala Harris introduced him in the East Room. Obama opened by referring to Biden as “vice president” before embracing his former No. 2.
Obama said he and Biden accomplished “a lot” in their eight years but “nothing made me prouder than providing better health care and more protections to millions of people across this country.”
“The ACA was an example of why you run for office in the first place,” Obama said, calling it the “high point of my time here.”
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Biden called the Affordable Care Act the most consequential legislation since Medicare and Medicaid were created in 1965, and insisted it must be expanded to more people.
“We can do this. We should do this. We have to do this,” Biden said. He said the law has been called a lot of things, “but Obamacare is the most fitting.”
Biden and Obama marked the 12th anniversary of the law, which back in 2010 the then-vice president had memorably whispered to Obama was a “big (expletive) deal” — words captured on an open microphone. Biden jokingly warned Obama that the microphones were still on when he signed an executive order meant to encourage federal agencies to expand the law’s coverage.
Obamacare’s staying power has been enhanced by three Supreme Court victories and the late Sen. John McCain’s dramatic thumbs-down vote that took the wind out of then-President Trump’s efforts to repeal and replace it.
The law was such a bugaboo in 2010 that Democrats rarely invoked it as they went into a midterm election that turned out to be, in Obama’s own words, a “shellacking.”
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Now, Democrats are hoping the political equation will work to their advantage, and that a focus can help Democrats rally to Biden to avoid a debacle at the polls this November.
But Democratic leaders are in danger if they’re content to pretend Obama is still in office.
The Associated Press contributed to this article