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Biden, Obama put the band back together for a day

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US President Joe Biden, and former president Barack Obama reunite to celebrate the 12th anniversary of Obama's signature domestic achievement - the Affordable Healthcare Act./AFP
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Apr 06, 2022 - 03:22 AM

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden and Barack Obama got the band back together Tuesday — at least for the day, with the former president visiting his former vice president in the White House to try and restoke Democratic momentum ahead of midterm elections.

The mood was simultaneously nostalgic, festive and humorous as the old team reunited.

“Welcome back to the White House, man. It feels like the good old days,” Biden told his former boss in a packed ceremonial East Room, where they entered together to huge cheers from staff and members of Congress.

For Obama, it was the first time he’s stepped into the hallowed corridors and historic rooms since he left five years ago, handing power to Donald Trump and ushering in a period of political turmoil unprecedented in the modern US era.

“Vice President Biden,” Obama began on taking the microphone, before correcting himself to laughter, saying “that was a joke.”

Biden prolonged the quip by introducing himself as “Barack Obama’s vice president.”

But for Biden, who served two terms as deputy to the first Black president before coming out of retirement to deny Trump a second term, it was a hugely poignant moment.

Beset by aftershocks of the Covid-19 pandemic, galloping inflation, a bitterly obstructionist Republican opposition, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden’s had more than a year to appreciate how hard the top job really is. His approval polls are dire, stuck in the low 40 percent range, with little sign of improvement.

The peg for the reunion was a relatively happy political event — the 12th anniversary of the launch of the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

Popularly known as Obamacare, the subsidized healthcare plan expanded medical services to millions in a country where many are unable to afford to visit the doctor and dentist and risk being bankrupted by the cost of emergency operations.

Republicans have made repeated, ferocious attempts to strip away a plan they denounce as socialism, but Obamacare has mostly survived the assaults and under Biden seen expanded participation.

“Despite great odds, Joe and I were determined,” Obama said. “I intended to get healthcare passed even if it cost me reelection — which for a while it looked like it might.”

Power lunch

The deeper point of the Biden-Obama get-together was a chance to reinforce Biden’s centrist brand and reassure Democrats running scared ahead of what polls predict will be a crushing election defeat in November, with Republicans regaining control of Congress.

Quite apart from talking up healthcare policy, the White House emphasized that the 44th president and current 46th were having lunch, just as they used to once a week during the Obama administration.

“They are real friends, not just Washington friends,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki insisted.

Real friends are often said to be scarce in cutthroat Washington, but Barack and his wife Michelle Obama are certainly popular among Democrats, seen as able to sprinkle much needed magic dust on the party.

When it comes to the midterms, Obama is not exactly the best example: his Democrats were wiped out in the 2010 and 2014 congressional races.

On the other hand, Obama showed with his reelection in 2012 that a president can survive those earthquakes — a lesson, perhaps, for Biden in 2024, when he may face a rerun of his battle against Trump.

Obama, his famously silky rhetorical skills still intact, appealed for Democrats not to lose self-belief.

“I’m outside the arena but I know how discouraged people can get with Washington,” he said.

In his speech, Biden gave a glimpse of how healthcare could feature in the Democrats’ bid to save their hold on Congress. “If Republicans get back in power they (will) try to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” he warned.

“So pay very close attention folks.”

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