Joe Biden sounded a bit stunned about the flack he took from fellow Democrats about former President Obama’s legacy at Wednesday night presidential debate.
“I must tell you I was a little surprised by how much incoming there was about Barack —about the president,” the former vice president told reporters in Detroit Thursday. “I’m proud of having served with him. I’m proud of the job he did. I don’t think there is anything he has to apologize for … It kind of surprised me, the degree of the criticism.”
Biden found himself pushing back against criticism of the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act and even more pointed barbs about immigration policy under Obama’s watch.
The Obama administration unsuccessfully pursued comprehensive immigration reform and took executive action to protect undocumented children who were brought to the U.S. as children. But the Obama administration also deported three million immigrants during his time an office.
Obama's deportation history criticized
At one point, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio asked Biden directly whether he supported the wide-scale deportations under his old boss’s watch. Biden tried to sidestep, but ultimately offered a less than fulsome answer.
“I was vice president. I was not the president,” Biden responded. “I keep my recommendation in private.”
Sen. Cory Booker noted that Biden frequently plays up his connections to Obama— who in a CNN poll last year held a 97% approval rating among Democrats — but was being dodgy at a tough question. Obama has not endorsed a candidate in the crowded Democratic field.
“You can't have it both ways,” Booker said. “You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign. You can’t do it when it's convenient and dodge it when it's not."
Biden also found himself getting hit by a fellow Obama administration alumni, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who suggested that Biden and other Democrats have been wrong not to embrace decriminalizing illegal border crossings.
Castro said Biden’s opposition demonstrated that “one of us has learned the lessons of the past and one of us hasn't.”
Health insurance policy divisions
Several leading candidates, including top contenders Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have made replacing Obama's signature Affordable Care Act with a new health care policy that covers more Americans a centerpiece of their candidacies. Critiques over the shortcomings of the ACA were made by candidates throughout the two-night debate.
“We have tried the solution of Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance,” Warren said during Tuesday night, in making her case that Obamacare needs to be replaced by a government-run Medicare for All plan. “And what have the private insurance companies done? They’ve sucked billions of dollars out of our health care system.
Eric Holder, who served as attorney general under Obama, took to Twitter to question the wisdom of Democrats hammering on their disagreements with the 44th president.
“Be wary of attacking the Obama record,” he wrote. “Build on it. Expand it. But there is little to be gained - for you or the party - by attacking a very successful and still popular Democratic President.”
To my fellow Democrats. Be wary of attacking the Obama record. Build on it. Expand it. But there is little to be gained - for you or the party - by attacking a very successful and still popular Democratic President.— Eric Holder (@EricHolder) August 1, 2019
Booker in an interview on CNN Thursday said the willingness of Democrats to critique their former president differentiates them from Republicans who he said too rarely take on President Trump’s controversies.
“I'm sure if Barack Obama was sitting here…he would tell you I made some mistakes,” Booker said in the CNN interview. “We are having an honest conversation about an administration that was incredible. I would take him back.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Joe Biden defends Obama legacy after criticism at Democratic debates