At their retreat in Philadelphia last week, Republican congressional leaders painted a picture of unity with President Donald Trump. Their aides aren’t sure about that.
Only 49 percent of the GOP staffers who responded to CQ Roll Call’s January Capitol Insiders Survey thought Congress would enact a law to construct a wall along the Mexican border, while just 44 percent see the $1 trillion infrastructure package Trump has promised becoming law.
Least of all, only 42 percent said they thought the president would maintain a ban on administration officials from lobbying their former agencies for five years after they leave their executive-branch jobs. Trump signed an executive order last Saturday requiring his staffers to do just that.
At the same time, 45 percent of the Republican aides who participated in the poll said they believed their party had put aside the differences that emerged during the campaign between many GOP congressional leaders and Trump. But nearly as many, 42 percent, said their bosses remained divided over whether Trump will help them enact a conservative agenda.
The remainder weren’t sure.
“Folks on the Hill are optimistic by nature and like to think people will come together, but the divisiveness has lasted so long,” said Lisa Camooso Miller, a partner at the Washington public relations firm Reset Public Affairs and a onetime spokeswoman for former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican.
CQ Roll Call emailed aides the survey on Jan. 23 and asked that they respond by Jan. 30. Of the 207 who did, 103 said they’re Republicans, 101 said they’re Democrats and three said they’re independents.
If conflict between the legislative and executive branches persists, it’s abated among Republicans working on Capitol Hill.
The disagreements among House Republicans that led to the resignation of former Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio in 2015 have dissipated, or are at least in abeyance. Boehner’s successor as speaker, Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, enjoys an 81-percent approval rating among House GOP staffers in CQ Roll Call’s poll, even as far-right activist groups have criticized him for not supporting Trump wholeheartedly.
And Republican aides are expecting their bosses to lead the way. More than half said they believed the congressional GOP would write the important legislation, while only 15 percent thought Trump would. The rest said Trump and congressional Republicans would share the burden.
And Republicans were supremely confident about their chances of enacting an array of contentious policy overhauls. For example, nearly all of them, 96 percent, expect they will repeal the 2010 health care law and replace it with something else, while 82 percent think this will be the Congress that revamps the tax code for the first time since 1986.
About three in four also believe they’ll roll back the sequester of defense appropriations and eliminate federal funding for the women’s health organization Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion services.
To the aides, Congress taking the lead only makes sense, said Miller, since “President Trump has arrived at the White House with a very small background in policy, whereas Congress, Speaker Ryan and [Senate Majority] Leader [Mitch] McConnell, have strong and deep backgrounds.”
Democratic aides, meanwhile, reflect the current disagreement among the party’s grass-roots supporters about whether their leaders should oppose Trump and the Republican Congress at every turn, or seek areas of compromise. And the new Senate minority leader, Charles E. Schumer of New York, is off to a rocky start.
Only half of Democratic Senate aides who took the survey said they approved of the job their leadership is doing, the lowest tally for a party leader since House GOP leaders posted a 49 percent approval rating in CQ Roll Call’s October 2015 survey. That poll was taken during Boehner’s final days as speaker.
“There is some unhappiness,” said Brendan Daly, a former spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. Daly is now senior director of communications at Save the Children Action Network, an activist group. “Democrats lost the election and there is some blowback. People are still finding their way,” he said.
Slightly more than half of Democratic aides, 56 percent, said they’d like their leaders to do everything in their power to block the GOP agenda, while 40 percent were inclined to compromise.
If Schumer opts for the former course, he’ll have his work cut out for him keeping his caucus together, considering that, in less than two years, 10 Democratic senators face re-election in states Trump won. Only half of the Democratic Senate aides think Schumer can maintain unity, while the rest expect he’ll lose Democrats running in Republican-leaning states at least some of the time.