White House Sees McAuliffe Playing Big Role for Dems in Post-Obama Era

Earnest floats notion next singular party leader is, for now, an unknown to most

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia at the Democratic National Convention last July. President Barack Obama sees him as a key part of the Democratic Party leadership team come Jan. 20. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Barack Obama expects the Democratic Party to transition to leadership by committee when he leaves office next Friday, and his top spokesman expects Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe will play a major role. 

Asked Thursday to whom Obama will articulate concerns or offer advice, Press Secretary Josh Earnest pointed to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and the new Senate Minority Leader, Charles E. Schumer of New York, then added McAuliffe to the list.

“I know that Gov. McAuliffe in the commonwealth of Virginia plays a leading role in working with Democratic governors across the country and I certainly would expect him to … continue to be a leading voice among Democrats,” Earnest said.

Amid talk that Bill and Hillary Clinton will take on lesser roles in party matters, Earnest’s inclusion of one of their closest former aides and surrogates is noteworthy.

Last week, Earnest told reporters the departing president expects that a small group of Democratic leaders will likely assume command.

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McAuliffe was chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005 and proved himself a prolific fundraiser during the Clinton years. He reworked the Democratic primary schedule and overhauled the DNC’s headquarters operation.

Earnest said the party now needs to build itself at the grass-roots level. And he predicted the Democrats’ next singular leader will likely be an unknown to most — just like Obama was in 2001 after Al Gore’s contentious loss to George W. Bush.

“That was also a situation in which a Democratic president was leaving office under circumstances that Democrats across the country were deeply disappointed by, to put it mildly, and you also had Republican control of Capitol Hill and there were questions being raised about who was going to lead the Democratic Party at that point,” Earnest said.

“And with the exception of some people who lived in the 312 (Chicago) area code, I don’t think there’s anybody that had ever heard of Barack Obama. But seven years later, he was elected the president of the United States,” he said. “What the president has also said is that his departure from the national stage will create an opening for others who we may not have heard of at this point to step up and make their voices heard.”

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.