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How liberal 'triumphs' on Syria and Summers have weakened Obama (+video)

Liberals are feeling their oats after Obama's retreats on Syria policy and the expected Summers nomination. That could cost him as he negotiates with Republicans over government funding.

By Staff writer / September 16, 2013

Larry Summers speaks during an interview with Reuters in Washington, June 24, 2010. Summers, a former top Obama economic adviser, withdrew his name Sunday from consideration to succeed Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve chairman.

Molly Riley/Reuters/File

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Washington

The left is on a roll. Liberals successfully pushed back against President Obama’s plan to launch airstrikes in Syria, and then quashed the expected nomination of Larry Summers as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.

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That one-two punch from some usually loyal Democratic allies has left Mr. Obama in a weakened political state right as he enters tough negotiations with Republicans: to keep the government funded beyond Sept. 30, and to raise the limit on federal borrowing authority a few weeks later.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner is having an even harder time getting his own base to heel – but whether that’s good news for Obama is debatable.

What is clear, analysts say, is that emboldened liberals in Congress could make it harder for Obama to operate as he has in the past – that is, making major concessions to Republicans to win deals on government funding and to prevent a default on the debt.

The latest cause of liberal concern is over Obama’s reported willingness to agree to a short-term budget deal that retains the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration – a position that even the House’s No. 2 Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, opposes.

“The left has felt that for much of the Obama presidency they have not been very central, and that the president – even though he appealed to them in campaigns – didn’t really do much once he was in power to meet their concerns,” says Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public policy at Princeton University.

Now, by making more noise and demonstrating their clout, progressives have added a new layer of complexity to the president’s political challenge over the budget. Still, “some on the left would say this is in Obama’s interest,” Mr. Zelizer adds, “because it will at least create counter-pressure to his simply conceding to Republican demands.”

Liberal activists are confident that there’s only an upside to their new boldness, and that if an impasse shuts down the government, Americans will blame the Republicans – as polls suggest.  

“We have a Republican Party that can’t agree with itself in the House and won’t rely on Democratic votes to pass anything sensible, so I think they’ll get blamed for it,” says Bob Borosage, co-director of the liberal Campaign for America’s Future.

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