Obama takes more public role amid conf luence of crises
WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama is taking on an increasingly public role as the nation confronts a confluence of historic crises that has exposed deep racial and socioeconomic inequalities in America and reshaped the November election.
In doing so, Obama is signaling a willingness to sharply critique his successor, President Donald Trump, and fill what many Democrats see as a national leadership void. On Wednesday, he held a virtual town hall event with young people to discuss policing and the civil unrest that has followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Obama rejected a debate he said he’d seen in “a little bit of chatter on the internet” about “voting versus protests, politics and participation versus civil disobedience and direct action.”
“This is not an either-or. This is a both and to bring about real change,” he said. “We both have to highlight a problem and make people in power uncomfortable, but we also have to translate that into practical solutions and laws that could be implemented and monitored and make sure we’re following up on.”
Obama called for turning the protests over Floyd’s death into policy change to ensure safer policing and trust between communities and law enforcement. He urged “every mayor in the country to review your use of force policies” with their communities and “commit to report on planned reforms” before prioritizing their implementation.
“We’re in a political season, but our country is also at an inflection point,” said Valerie Jarrett, a friend and adviser to Obama. “President Obama is not going to shy away from that dialogue simply because he’s not in office anymore.”
Obama was already beginning to emerge from political hibernation to endorse Joe Biden’s Democratic presidential bid when the coronavirus pandemic swept across the U.S. and the economy began to crater. The crises scrambled the Biden campaign’s plans for how to begin deploying Obama as their chief surrogate ahead of the November election, but also gave the former president a clear opening to start publicly arguing what he has signaled to friends and associates privately for the past three years: that he does not believe Trump is up for the job.
Biden’s campaign welcomed Obama stepping forward during this moment.
Biden, who served as
Obama’s vice president, called this week for restoring some of his administration’s actions in the wake of Floyd’s death and the killing of other black Americans. Biden also called for Congress to take immediate steps, including outlawing chokeholds.
Republicans in Iowa ousted Rep. Steve King in Tuesday’s primary, deciding they’ve had enough of the conservative lightning rod known for making incendiary comments about immigrants and white supremacy throughout his nearly two decades in Congress.
The nine-term congressman, shunned by his party leadership in Washington and many longtime supporters at home, lost to state Sen. Randy Feenstra in a five-way GOP primary.