WASHINGTON — Americans are poorly served by first-term senators who seek controversy to boost their own profiles, President Barack Obama said, drawing a contrast with his own tenure as a freshman senator who then ran for president.
Locked in a fight with Congress that’s forced a partial government shutdown, Obama said he has to remind lawmakers that real people’s lives are concretely affected by actions taken in Washington.
“I recognize that in today’s media age, being controversial, taking controversial positions, rallying the most extreme parts of your base, whether it’s left or right, is a lot of times the fastest way to get attention and raise money,” Obama said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press. “But it’s not good for government.”
He sought to distance himself from first-term senators such as Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida. All three have become quick celebrities in the Senate, channeling the tea party’s anger toward Obama and raising their own status as potential White House contenders.
When Obama arrived in the Senate in 2005, he already had a high profile, due in large part to his electrifying speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston the year before.
He mostly kept his head down in the early months of his term, but later tangled publicly with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., over changing Senate ethics rules.
“My attitude was I should just keep a pretty low profile and just do the work,” Obama said. Less than four years later, he resigned from the Senate after being elected president.
The young luminaries elected to the Senate in recent years have frequently confounded Obama’s attempts to reach agreements with Congress. Cruz, who railed against Obama’s health care law in a 21-hour floor speech, has insisted House Republicans not yield to Obama by funding the government without also derailing or delaying the health care law.
“I didn’t go around courting the media,” Obama said of his own time in senator. “And I certainly didn’t go around trying to shut down the government.”