The Freedom Caucus, the conservative House faction that stymied Republican efforts to repeal the health care law in March and, before that, upended the speakership of John A. Boehner, is deeply unpopular with the bulk of Republican staffers.
That, anyway, was the case among the respondents to the April Capitol Insiders Survey, CQ Roll Call’s email poll of congressional staff. Asked if the caucus was a positive or negative force for the party, 71 percent of GOP respondents said it was negative, while 22 percent said it was positive. The remainder were unsure.
The poll was emailed to aides on April 26 and they had until May 2 to respond. Of the 201 who did, 100 said they were Republicans, 94 Democrats and 7 independents.
House Republican staffers who took the poll were only slightly more positive, with 64 percent critical of the caucus, compared to 27 percent who were positive.
Perhaps it’s a function of the caucus’s growing might, said Jeffrey Taylor, managing partner of U.S. Government Relations International and an ex-aide to former GOP Rep. David M. McIntosh of Indiana. “They’ve figured out how to use their power to move Speaker [Paul D.] Ryan and Majority Leader [Kevin] McCarthy.”
On the other hand, it could be simply the result of the health care debacle, in which the Freedom Caucus, with the help of some GOP moderates, blocked Ryan’s bill to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law on the grounds that it did not sufficiently deregulate the health care system.
Asked what the effect of that will be, if Republicans don’t regroup and repeal the law, 72 percent of GOP respondents said it would help the Democrats in the 2018 elections.
“I think it’s one thing for them to be obstructionist when Democrats are in charge, but to do it when Republicans are in charge is another thing,” said Brendan Daly, a former spokesman for House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi when the California lawmaker was speaker. “It doesn’t look good.”
The poll results provide ample evidence that Republicans in Congress are struggling for the unity they need to get big things done. Nearly two in three said the party hasn’t yet put aside the differences that emerged during the presidential campaign, when President Donald Trump’s success cleaved the party.
Nearly as many said Trump’s temperament and approach to governing had hurt GOP efforts to move a conservative agenda.
And asked what grade they would give Trump for his first 100 days in office, 58 percent said a C, D, or F. Only 8 percent would give Trump an A, and 34 percent a B.
Yet, the Republicans remained remarkably optimistic about their chances of enacting much of Trump’s agenda. Two in three still thought it was at least somewhat likely that they’ll repeal and replace the health care law. More than eight in 10 said there was a good chance they’ll get a tax overhaul. And more than half said they expected to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
“They are making progress on tax reform,” Taylor said. “They are trying to come to a decision on health care.”
Democratic staffers, meanwhile, are licking their chops and feeling unified. More than three-quarters of them said they were more inclined to block the Republican agenda than find areas of compromise. “It’s Democrats in Washington seeing the lay of the land now,” said Kevin Murphy, a former aide to Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. “All the Democrats now realize there’s a huge appetite from the base for Democrats to stand up.”
Nearly as many Democratic respondents said they expected that Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer would be able to hold his caucus together, even as 10 of his senators face re-election in 2018 in states Trump won last year.