Former President Barack Obama returned to the White House on Tuesday for the first time since leaving office, where he was welcomed back with open arms by a host of Democrats and members of the Biden administration.
Obama appeared alongside President Biden and Vice President Harris in a packed East Room, where he received a standing ovation from lawmakers, Cabinet officials and health care advocates for an event touting efforts to strengthen the Affordable Care Act.
Both Obama and Biden joked fondly about their time in office, with Obama referring to Biden as “vice president” and Biden introducing himself as “Barack Obama’s vice president.”
“Mr. President, welcome back to the White House man,” Biden said to Obama. “Feels like the good old days.”
Obama did not visit the White House at all during the Trump administration and has largely avoided the political limelight since leaving office outside of a few campaign trail appearances. While he was there Tuesday to highlight how the Affordable Care Act has been strengthened since it was passed 12 years ago, it was also an opportunity for Obama to revel in his return to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
“It is good to be back in the White House. It’s been awhile,” Obama said. “I confess, I heard some changes have been made by the current president since I was last here.”
“Apparently, Secret Service agents have to wear aviator glasses now,” Obama said, a nod to Biden’s fondness of that style of shades. “The Navy mess has been replaced by a Baskin Robbins. And there’s a cat running around.”
“But coming back, even if I have to wear a tie, which I very rarely do these days, gives me a chance to visit with some of these incredible people who serve this White House and who serve this country every single day,” Obama continued.
The former president acknowledged West Wing and East Wing staff behind the scenes who keep the government and White House operations running.
“It’s wonderful to be back to say thank you to all of you,” Obama said. “But most of all, coming back here gives me a chance to say thank you and spend some time with an extraordinary friend and partner who was by my side for eight years. Joe Biden and I did a lot together.”
Obama and Biden became close friends during their eight years in office together, and Biden frequently invoked his time as vice president when running for president in 2020.
Still, Obama largely kept his distance during the primary process, and the former president has not been to the White House since Biden took office. Officials say the two men speak on the phone regularly.
Biden tweeted a photo with Obama in the Oval Office before Tuesday’s event, and the two men were scheduled to have lunch together.
Obama remains among the most popular figures in the Democratic Party, and his appearance comes at a time when Biden is struggling in the polls in the face of persistent inflation and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has caused ripple effects throughout the world.
But the focus of Tuesday’s event was squarely on the Affordable Care Act, giving Obama and Biden something of a full circle moment. It was Biden who stood beside Obama and called it a “big f—— deal” when the former president signed the legislation into law.
Republicans repeatedly tried and failed to repeal the law, including a congressional effort during the early months of the Trump administration in 2017. Informally known as ObamaCare, it served as a central attack line for Republicans on the campaign trail, despite the law having grown in popularity. A March 2022 survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed 55 percent of the public viewed the law favorably.
Biden has embraced the law as part of his own agenda, pushing for subsidies as part of the American Rescue Plan and signing executive orders to expand access.
At the end of his remarks, Obama nodded to the partisan gridlock that has gripped Washington, D.C., dating back to his own time in the White House.
“I know how discouraged people can get with Washington. Democrats, Republicans, independents. Everybody feels frustrated sometimes about what takes place in this town. Progress feels way to slow sometimes,” Obama said. “Victories are often incomplete and in a country as big and diverse as ours, consensus never comes easily.
“But what the affordable care act shows is if you are driven by the core idea that together we can improve the lives of this generation and the next, and if you’re persistent, if you stay with it and are willing to work through the obstacles and the criticism and continually improve where you fall short, you can make America better.”