If Democratic staffers, instead of their bosses, had voted in last month’s House caucus leadership elections, Tim Ryan of Ohio would be the new minority leader.
That, at least, was the result in CQ Roll Call’s latest Capitol Insiders Survey of congressional staff. Democratic respondents preferred Ryan to the actual winner, Nancy Pelosi of California, by a margin of 40 percent to 35 percent. Sixteen percent said they didn’t know, while 9 percent suggested other names, including Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the longtime Democratic whip, or Joseph Crowley of New York, the incoming caucus chairman.
The November election results, in which Democrats picked up a net of just six House seats, have left a “lot of shock and anger, and that will rebound to the people in leadership,” said Kevin Murphy, a former aide to Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut.
However, Murphy said Democrats, who selected Pelosi by a two-to-one margin over Ryan, may have made the more cool-headed decision. “The House is not the Senate. There are no prerogatives for minority power,” he says. “The only thing the minority can do is stick together, and she is very, very good at getting the caucus to stick together.”
Drill down into the poll results and most House Democratic staffers who responded agree with their bosses. Eliminate the Senate Democratic aides and Pelosi pulled out a 38 percent to 36 percent victory, with 14 percent undecided and another 12 percent proposing other names.
The survey, which was emailed to staffers on Nov. 29, drew responses from 178 aides, of which 90 said they were Democrats, 85 Republicans, and three independents. The aides had until Tuesday to respond.
While divided on Pelosi, the House Democratic respondents were overwhelmingly concerned about the lack of a strong bench of up-and-coming leaders in their caucus. Eighty-three percent said the party needs to do more to cultivate new leaders.
Even so, a solid majority of 62 percent said they opposed creating term limits for the party’s committee ranking members, one of the most often-proposed ideas for developing new leaders. It’s controversial because it could displace women and minority Democrats who’ve attained top committee posts.
Still, the angst in the caucus is real. Forty percent said they disapproved of their caucus leadership. That was the highest disapproval tally since CQ Roll Call began asking about it in October 2015. In the November Capitol Insiders Survey, which came out days before the election, only 18 percent of House Democrats said they disapproved of their party leaders.
And while Ryan’s challenge to Pelosi came up short, it revealed a level of dissatisfaction that Democrats had previously kept to themselves. “The current leadership is very focused on raising money but appears to be a little short on ideas,” said Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, the Massachusetts Democrat who joined the anti-Pelosi forces.
Still, Democratic aides who took CQ Roll Call’s poll are divided on whether to try to obstruct the Republican agenda in 2017, or to try to find areas of compromise. Fifty-one percent favor obstruction, while 39 percent said they should seek areas of compromise.
Of President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees named at the time of the survey — a list that did not yet include Steven Mnuchin at the Treasury Department, James Mattis at Defense or Ben Carson at Housing and Urban Development — Democrats expect Sen. Jeff Sessions to be the most controversial.
The Alabama Republican, Trump’s pick for attorney general, was denied a federal judgeship by the Senate in 1986 after he was accused of making racist remarks.
Eighty-one percent of Democratic aides who filled out the survey expect Sessions will have trouble winning confirmation.
Given that Sessions will only need 50 Senate votes to get the job, that might be wishful thinking. But Republican respondents to the survey are equally worried about Sessions. Eighty-three percent said he might go down.
A majority of aides from both parties also expect Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for Education secretary, to prove dicey.
Democratic aides were less certain about their ability to block Trump’s agenda. More than half of the respondents said they expected Trump would succeed in repealing all or most of the 2010 health care law, restructuring the tax code, filling the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat on the Supreme Court with a like-minded conservative, and approving the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Of the most prominent Trump campaign promises, Democrats were most skeptical that he would succeed in building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Republican respondents to the survey also said they foresee a reconciliation bill that would repeal the health care law, defund Planned Parenthood and overhaul the tax code. They do expect Trump to proceed with deporting at least 2 million unauthorized immigrants who have committed crimes, and with a massive infrastructure spending bill.
They were unpersuaded that the GOP would cut food stamps, turn Medicaid into block grants to the states, or make big changes to Medicare. A plurality of the GOP respondents, 46 percent, said they didn’t believe the election had provided a mandate to remake Medicare, the health care program for the elderly.