jump to navigation

Why Congress At 100 Days Is Less Popular And Effective Than Trump (Forbes.com) May 10, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.

There’s been a lot of talk about President Trump’s low poll ratings (40% in the latest Gallup Poll, 46% in Rasmussen) and his underwhelming performance in the first hundred days.  But few seem to have noticed that the one body even less popular (34% favorable according to the Pew Research Center and only 24% at CNN/ORC) and effective is the United States Congress.  In fact, much of the responsibility for Trump’s underperformance lies in the Congress.  With one political party controlling both houses of Congress and the White House, how can this be?

In most respects, Congress is not your father’s Oldsmobile.  Gone are the days when legislative leaders such as the Speaker of the House or the chairs of important committees control what goes on there.  Instead of following their legislative leaders, Republicans in Congress now listen to narrower, issue-based caucuses and interest groups.  Instead of fearing the power of a majority leader or committee chair to stop their bills, Republican members fear the right-wing caucus that could fund an opposition candidate in their next primary.  And so the Republican Party that seems to have arrived at a sublime moment of power is really more like a motley crew of squabbling factions.  The so-called Tuesday Group of moderate Republicans in Congress or the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus have as much power over legislation as the Speaker or committee chairs.

The other big difference from an earlier day is that congressional leaders no longer even try to win over members of the other party—instead it is all about rallying your base.  And so Obamacare, the largest entitlement program in 50 years, was passed on an entirely party-line vote, with no Republicans voting for it.  Then along came the repeal last week and this time no Democrats voted in favor.  In President Trump’s one important victory in Congress, all Republicans and no Democrats voted to require only a majority to approve Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court (the “nuclear option”), and only three Democrats voted to confirm him.  It is only when Congress’s back is to the wall—the vote to approve a short-term spending plan and keep the government open—that members of both parties come together in a vote.

In fact, when you look at Trump’s ambitious 28-point plan for his first hundred days, a surprising number of executive actions have been undertaken—those that only require a presidential executive order or a decision by a cabinet officer.  But of the ten measures that require action by Congress, only one or two have been completed or even seriously attempted.  Is that Trump’s fault?  Perhaps, but there’s plenty of blame to lay on Congress for failing to take up any serious legislation other than the Affordable Care Act, which turned out to be a tweak more than a repeal and replace.

Politically America, including Congress, is still living under the curse of Karl Rove.  It was Rove, the architect of George W. Bush’s two presidential campaigns, who figured out that rather than running toward the center to capture undecided voters, candidates should instead mobilize and turn out their own bases.  This led first to ugly and divisive campaigns and now to ugly and divisive government.  It has also led to government by executive orders and party-line votes, which in turn can be undone as soon as another president and another party come into office and undo it all with their own executive orders and party-line votes.

It is in Republicans’ self-interest to turn this around and fast.  Only five times in our history has the president’s party avoided losses in mid-term elections, and those nearly all involved national crisis or emergency situations.  So basically, Republicans have now less than two years to learn to work with each other, and in turn to work with the Democrats.  Sometimes, as the saying goes, you have to rise above principle and get some things done.

To read the column at Forbes.com:


%d bloggers like this: