Republican aides are reeling from the implosion of their party’s attempt to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law, according to the latest CQ Roll Call Capitol Insiders Survey.
Paul D. Ryan’s approval rating among House GOP staffers has dropped to its lowest level since he became speaker in 2015, plummeting from 85 percent three weeks after Election Day to 44 percent in March. Those are levels not seen — for either party’s congressional leaders — since the ouster of Ryan’s predecessor, John A. Boehner of Ohio, a year and a half ago.
The Republican aides who took the poll are also fretting about the electoral impact of the failure to repeal the 2010 health care law. Two-thirds of them think it will help the Democrats in the 2018 election if they are unable to repeal the law, while only 10 percent think Republicans would be best served by leaving the law in place.
“People expected Republicans would get this done and the failure to do so just doesn’t look good,” said Michael Steel, a former spokesman for Boehner who’s now a managing director at Hamilton Place Strategies, a political consulting firm.
CQ Roll Call emailed staffers the poll on March 23 and gave them until March 30 to respond. Of the 132 who did, 64 were Republicans, 66 Democrats and two independents.
Before a scheduled House vote on March 24, Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, pulled the repeal and replace bill that he’d earlier rushed through four House committees. The bill’s demise was due to opposition from some conservatives, as well as from a number of GOP moderates upset about changes to the bill that Ryan had allowed in an effort to accommodate the conservatives.
“Moving from an opposition party to a governing party comes with growing pains. And, well, we’re feeling those growing pains today,” Ryan said at a news conference afterward.
Steel said the steep dip in Ryan’s approval rating reflects a big comedown in Republican expectations: “The hope that having a Republican president would immediately unify the House GOP conference is bumping into the clear and obvious reality that it didn’t.”
CQ Roll Call surveys from last year found deep distrust for President Donald Trump among Republican staffers and those concerns remain. More than half of the GOP respondents to the March poll, 56 percent, said that Trump’s temperament had negatively affected the GOP’s ability to move forward a conservative agenda.
And nearly two-thirds of the Republican staffers, 62 percent, said the differences amongst Republicans that emerged during the campaign about Trump persist. Only 35 percent said Republicans had put those differences aside.
Trump immediately tried to blame Democrats for the failure of the House health care bill, calling reporters at The New York Times and The Washington Post to spin the issue. But Democratic aides who took the Capitol Insiders Survey weren’t worried. Nearly all of them, 96 percent, said the GOP’s lack of success would work to the Democrats’ benefit in 2018.
On the health care bill, “the betting on the Democratic side is that despite Trump’s comments to the contrary, the Republicans now own it,” said Jim Manley, a former spokesman for Nevada Democrat Harry Reid when Reid was his party’s Senate leader.
Manley said Republicans who want to revive the repeal effort are in a box because that’s not politically beneficial either.
Nearly all the Democratic poll respondents also said their party would benefit if Republicans regroup and repeal the health care law. “If they try to strangle it, they will pay the price,” said Manley.
Democrats, though, are in a box of their own.
More than 60 percent of Democratic staffers responding to the poll expect Democratic senators to filibuster the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, even though it’s likely to be a futile gesture. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can simply change the Senate rules to confirm Gorsuch on a simple majority vote.
That, in turn, could possibly lead to further changes in the filibuster — for legislation — hurting Democrats’ ability to block the Republican agenda.
But, Steel argued, Democrats feel compelled to filibuster in order to appease their restive base: “What’s new is that the furious anger that we’ve seen in the Republican base for the past six or seven years has spread to the Democratic base. It’s going to be harder and harder for them to work on a bipartisan basis.”