Former President Barack Obama painted a grim picture of the GOP at two California fundraisers this week, according to excerpts provided to CNN, warning Democrats that Republicans could oversee “a lot of mischief” if they win the House in the November midterm elections.
The speeches, one at a fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Wednesday in San Diego and another for the Democratic National Committee on Thursday in San Francisco, are the latest in a string of fundraisers Obama has headlined for top Democratic groups as the former President gets more engaged with the midterms.
“There’s a lot of mischief that can be done with a Republican House majority,” Obama told donors in San Diego. “So this is not a normal election. The stakes could not be higher. And I hope that everybody understands the stakes in this last quarter. I’m going to be out there talking about it, and I expect all of you to be doing the same.”
With Democrats only holding a narrow House majority, Republicans are confident they can win back control of the chamber in November, and with it stepped-up oversight of the Biden administration.
Obama has personal experience with this kind of shift: In the midterm elections when he was president, Republicans won control of the House in 2010 and then the Senate four years later.
On Thursday, Obama told DNC donors that “over the last four years, our democracy hasn’t worked,” referring to former President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress.
“Not only did it not work,” he said, “but we elected somebody who actually didn’t believe in it.”
He added: “What we’ve seen the last four years, with a whole bunch of leading figures in one of our two major political parties, is they’re not even faking it. Essentially what they’ve said is that, we fear we may be a minority party, our ideas aren’t selling, but if we can exploit some of the play in the joints of a creaky democracy, if we can work and game the system enough to exploit its anti-majoritarian trends or tendencies, we may be able to just seize power, even if we’re not getting the most votes, even if we’re not marshaling the most support from our population, and if we’re ruthless enough about (it).”
Obama said Thursday that this had not always been a Republican viewpoint – he mentioned that his favorite president, Abraham Lincoln, was a Republican and that “the staunchest segregationists were lodged in the Democratic Party.” But Obama said that “right now, it’s pretty clear, we’ve got one party that does have a fundamentally different vision.”
Although the focus at each event was the midterms, Obama argued in San Francisco that elections in the United States and around the world extend “beyond any particular issue” and are actually “a contest between those of us who believe in a vision of society in which each individual is treated with equal worth and equal dignity” and an opposing side “that has everything to do with tribe and race and sect and power and violence.”
Obama said that while it was a “decade-long project” to reverse “economic trends that have helped popularize a more authoritarian view of how society should be structured,” the key in the meantime was to “make sure that what guardrails remain to maintain our democracy stay in place” and to combat the attacks on the electoral process that have happened in recent years.
“What we’re seeing right now is that what used to be sort of vestiges of a poll tax, Jim Crow, voter suppression, which could be overcome, has now escalated to voter nullification,” Obama said. “That’s essentially what ‘Stop the Steal’ is about. It’s what Republican candidates up and down the line are now professing. … Essentially what they’re saying is, ‘We do not have to abide by the norms that we had set up just to count votes.’”
Since the 2020 election, a number of Republican-controlled states have moved to reshape their state election systems, moves that have drawn criticism from Democrats.
Chris Hayden, a DCCC spokesman, said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and California Rep. Sara Jacobs joined Obama at the fundraiser on Wednesday at the home of Jacobs’ grandparents, Joan and Irwin Jacobs, the co-founder of Qualcomm. The event, Hayden said, raised $2.75 million.
A spokesperson for the DNC said Thursday’s event in San Francisco raised more than $2 million from 60 attendees.
Obama heralded Democrats at both events, saying Wednesday that he “watched with extraordinary pride all the work that has been done to build on the work that we started back in 2008.” On Thursday, he said that “a big advantage that we’ve got actually in this upcoming midterm is the quality of our candidates.”
Obama has now held fundraisers for several major Democratic groups, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in early September and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee in late August.