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Ten Dems Obama should watch out for

By: Glenn Thrush

Even if Democrats don’t agree with Barack Obama on everything, who among them would challenge
a president with a 73 percent approval rating?

He’ll soon find out.

Sooner or later, the bonhomie of Obama’s Inauguration will dissipate — and the novelty of having a
soul mate in the Oval Office will give way to intense internal debates over the extent and substance of
Democratic change.

Either that, or some people will just get on Obama’s nerves.

The president’s friends might not become his enemies. But here are 10 Democrats — and some
runners-up — who could soon find themselves on the White House Frenemies List:

1. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) — Conyers, the outspoken chairman of the House Judiciary
Committee, hasn’t been shy about pressuring Obama — vowing to proceed with investigations into
the Bush administration’s sacking of eight U.S. attorneys and other potential violations of federal law.
Obama has said he prefers to “look forward” and not rehash the past — but House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi has indicated she’s open to allowing Conyers to proceed. Remember: In the 110th Congress,
Conyers had to be talked down from pushing for the impeachment of President George W. Bush.

2. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) — The incoming chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee
forced Obama to apologize after he nominated Leon Panetta to head the CIA without consulting her
first. Feinstein is not afraid to break with her party on thorny issues, as she did recently during the
Roland Burris affair and last year when she essentially declared Hillary Clinton’s presidential run over
before her candidate was ready to concede. Feinstein also may be positioning herself for a 2010
gubernatorial run, a potentially bigger factor for her than making Obama look good.
3. Vice President Joe Biden — Biden survived the campaign, the transition and even Inauguration
Day without any Obama-embarrassing verbal gaffes. But on the first full day of the Obama
presidency, Biden made a joke — on live TV — about Chief Justice John Roberts’ fumbling of
Obama’s swearing-in. Obama, who had tried to smooth over the oath of office glitch, looked visibly
unhappy with his VP, touching his arm in a sign that it was time to shut up and move on. If Biden can’t
button it — and encourage his wife to do the same — expect to see Obama’s pinched-face look a
little more often.

“Gird your loins”

4. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) — Waxman, who knocked off John Dingell to become chairman
of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, is no party maverick: He’s an enthusiastic Obama
and Pelosi supporter with a long history of defending Democratic presidents, namely Bill Clinton. But
he’s also among the House’s most aggressive proponents of addressing global warming fast, and he
recently promised to act “quickly and decisively” in his capacity as committee chairman. The problem
is that both Pelosi and Obama have a lot on their plates and want to ring up a series of legislative
victories before addressing a controversial, technically complex issue that could create a stalemate.
Plus, Waxman’s push for stronger emissions standards could alienate some Rust Belt members
whose states depend on coal. Runner-up: Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

5. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) — The new head of the Appropriations Committee is old school
when it comes to legislative earmarks. This is the same guy, after all, who from 1998 to 2004 steered
$1.4 billion to military projects in his state. That puts him at philosophical loggerheads with Obama,
who ran against the culture of pork and influence peddling in Washington. “Inouye isn’t going to bend
to accommodate” Obama, said a senior Democratic aide. Moreover, this beloved war hero — who
stood up for fellow earmarker and former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) when the latter was convicted
on federal fraud counts— is probably reflecting the views of many other Democrats. Said one Senate
aide: “That anti-earmark stuff sells nationally, but earmarks are still great politics locally.” Runner-up:
Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.).
6. Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) — Obama has carefully courted Boyd, one of the most influential of the
pay-as-you-go Blue Dog Democrats — but an unprecedented congressional spending spree and the
new administration’s commitment to throwing more aid at flailing banks will create inevitable tensions.
Those tensions have been stoked by the new president’s waning commitment to repealing tax cuts
for families earning $250,000 or more — a rollback backed by both the Dogs and Pelosi. Some Blue
Dogs, many of them newly elected moderates responsible for expanding the Democratic majority in
the House, have also shown a willingness to break with party leadership on national security issues
— and 15 of them refused to pay Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dues in 2007 over
differences with antiwar Democrats. But with $1.2 trillion in government spending at hand and the
worst economy in 75 years, budget hawks are not exactly in vogue in the Democratic Party, so Blue
Dogs may be diminished. Runners-up: Reps. Heath Sh uler (D-N.C.) and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin
(D-S.D.).

7. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) As chairman of the Finance Committee, Baucus has often infuriated
liberals with his pro-business positions and his penchant for striking deals with Republican Chuck
Grassley. If Obama chooses to govern from the middle, he could find a key ally in Baucus. But trying
to enact the tax, health and trade policies he touted on the campaign could hit a roadblock if Baucus
doesn’t give them his blessing.

8. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) — The head of the Congressional Black Caucus represents several
potential fault lines between Obama and Hill Democrats. As a CBC leader with a lock on her Oakland
district (and a solid relationship with Pelosi), she’s secure enough to buck the White House if she
thinks that Obama is taking African-American support for granted. She is also a founder of the Out of
Iraq and Progressive caucuses — and she stood up to Bill Clinton on his use of military force in Iraq
and Serbia — so she won’t be shy in criticizing the administration if it tarries on withdrawing from Iraq.
Runner-up: Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).

9. Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) — Because none of his fellow Democrats ever know what he will do or
say.

10. Michelle Obama — She’s glamorous, she’s on message, she’s the nation’s favorite mom — and
now she has nowhere to go but down. The press, which helped savage Michelle Obama for her
“proud of my country” remark during the campaign, has since built her into a 21st century Jackie O.
With the spotlight shining so brightly on her now, any misstep by the first lady — a slip of the tongue,
a too-frank statement, any disagreement with the administration’s positions — could reflect harshly on
her husband.

Manu Raju, John Bresnahan, Patrick O’Connor and Martin Kady II contributed to this story.