Former Obama aide joins Howard Schultz's team. Democrats aren't happy.

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 1/29/2019, 7:40 a.m.
Bill Burton, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, defended his decision to join Howard Schultz's team as the former ...
Bill Burton, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, is joining Howard Schultz's team as the former Starbucks CEO considers an independent presidential bid in 2020, sources familiar with the plans tell CNN. (FILE PHOTO)

By Dan Merica, Cristina Alesci, Rebecca Buck and Jeff Zeleny, CNN

(CNN) -- Bill Burton, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, defended his decision to join Howard Schultz's team as the former Starbucks CEO considers an independent presidential bid in 2020, pushing back against suggestions that Schultz could be a spoiler.

Burton was one of the original aides to the Obama campaign 12 years ago and went on to be deputy press secretary in the White House. His addition to Schultz's team will lend the former Starbucks CEO credibility but it will also amplify the pushback to Schultz's potential bid from Democrats who believe it would jeopardize their chances at defeating President Donald Trump.

That pushback was palpable in the statement released by Democratic public affairs firm SKDKnickerbocker, Burton's previous employer.

"Bill Burton has left the firm to pursue projects he could not have pursued or participated in at SKDK," said a spokesperson for the group. "We wish him well."

In a more direct email to employees, SKDKnickerbocker managing director Josh Isay wrote, "Bill no longer works at SKDK and we will have nothing to do with this effort. We wish Bill well personally but all this firm cares about is beating Donald Trump.

"To be clear, will stand up against anything or anyone that gets in the way of putting a Democrat in the White House."

In a phone interview with CNN on Monday night, Burton defended his decision to join Schultz's team, saying: "The criticism of this effort right out of the box has been extraordinarily lazy."

"I don't accept the premise that any one of the front-running presidential candidates can beat Donald Trump," Burton said. "If there's nothing more important than beating Donald Trump, we need to be more creative about how to do that."

"I'm doing this because I think our country is in crisis and I think we should be imaginative as for how to fix it," he added.

News of Burton joining Schultz's team quickly enraged a number of Democratic operatives who are working to beat Trump. Their argument: Schultz's entry into the 2020 race would fracture the anti-Trump vote and make it easier for the President to win re-election. Burton said Steve Schmidt, a longtime Republican strategist, was also joining the effort.

"He should know better," said a Democratic operative. "I am furious. The guy was on the ground in Iowa for Obama and now he is playing into the potential re-election of Trump."

Several former Obama aides were privately highly critical of Burton's decision to help Schultz.

"No amount of money would be worth this," one former Obama aide said. "This is very shortsighted of him."

Burton brushed aside the criticism, saying it's time to explore a new direction for the country.

"I'm doing this because I think our country is in crisis and I think we should be imaginative as for how to fix it," Burton said.