House Alert: The Do-Nothing Congress Is Turning Off Voters in Big Numbers
Poll Analysis

House Alert: The Do-Nothing Congress Is Turning Off Voters in Big Numbers

© ERIC THAYER / Reuters

It was a telling sign of the times: Last Thursday about 100 eighth graders from South Orange, N.J., passed up an opportunity to pose for a photo with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

Ryan’s approval rating has been tanking recently, as he championed President Trump’s policies including a House-passed health care measure that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says would leave 23 million Americans uninsured in the coming decade. About half of the 200 students visiting Washington on a field trip – some from liberal Democratic families -- refused to be photographed with Ryan.

Related: How the GOP Health Care Disaster Is Opening the Door to Medicaid for All

Matthew Malespina, one of the students who joined in the photo boycott, told reporters later that “It’s not just a picture. It’s being associated with a person who puts his party before his country.”

Ryan, the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee, has seen his negative ratings rise for months as a sorely divided Republican-controlled Congress staggers to find consensus on an array of highly controversial issues, including replacing Obamacare, cutting taxes, slashing Medicaid for the poor and eliminating environmental regulatory protections.

A new nationwide Quinnipiac University survey released late last week found that only 27 percent of American voters approve of Ryan’s performance as speaker while 54 percent disapprove. His negative rating has inched up six points since late March.

But the embattled House Speaker is not alone: Only 15 percent of Americans approve of the performance of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the savvy veteran lawmaker and dealmaker while 47 percent disapprove.

Related: House GOP’s Health Plan Isn’t Much Better the Third Time Around, CBO Says

But Democrats have little to cheer about, too. Only 29 percent of Americans approve of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York while 34 percent disapprove. And just 30 percent of voters approve of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California while 50 percent say they disapprove.

Americans grew accustomed to partisan gridlock in Congress throughout much of President Barack Obama’s eight years in office before Trump and the Republicans rolled to victory last November and claimed control of the White House and both chambers of Congress for the first time in over a decade.

Trump, Ryan and McConnell vowed swift action on an ambitious conservative agenda of repealing and replacing Obamacare, tax relief, new infrastructure construction, a new wall along the southern border with Mexico and scores of other initiatives.

But much of that GOP agenda has become bogged down in intra-party squabbling, Democratic intransigence, and a mushrooming White House scandal stemming from an FBI probe of possible ties between Trump campaign advisers and the Russians.

Related: The GOP Is Playing Chicken With Millions of Americans’ Health Insurance

So far, Congress has done little more than repealing a dozen or so Obama Administration regulations and policies, confirmed the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch in the Senate and approved a series of other largely non-descript bills.

Given the current sharp divides between the Senate and House Republicans over health care, taxes and spending, it is quite conceivable that Congress remarkably could end the year without an agreement on any major legislation.

If so, that would render lawmakers the biggest “do-nothing” Congress in memory.

By a margin of 70 percent to 21 percent, Americans disapprove of the way Republicans in Congress are doing their job and disapprove of the Democrats’ performance by 63 percent to 28 percent.  

Related: Trump Suffers a Rare Setback in War on Environmental Protections

Among strictly Republican voters, only 44 percent say they approve of how the GOP is running Congress while 47 percent say they disapprove. That’s hardly a rousing approval of the leadership from within the party.

Democrats are only slightly more charitable in evaluating their party leaders, with 57 percent approving of the Democratic performance on Capitol Hill and 33 percent saying they disapprove. Democrats still reeling from their major losses last November are divided over strategy – with liberals and progressives clamoring for a confrontation with the Trump and the GOP while more moderate Democrats advocate seeking common ground.

The health care controversy appears to be at the heart of Americans’ disenchantment with Republican leadership. Obamacare beneficiaries who saw premiums and deductibles rise year after year and were promised a better system by Trump and GOP lawmakers. Instead, after months of squabbling, they have a plan that works for some, but not all — especially poor, able- bodied adults who benefitted from Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Related: Trump’s Rollback on Clean Air and Water Rules Could Raise Health Care Costs

The new Quinnipiac poll shows American voters disapprove of the new health proposal, 57 percent to 20 percent. Only 20 percent of American voters say they are more likely to vote for a senator or House members who supports the AHCA while 44 percent say they are less likely and 31 percent say this issue won't affect their vote.

Among independents -- an important voting bloc -- just 17 percent said they are more likely to support an elected official who backs the health care plan, while 41 percent are less likely. Even among Republicans, support for the AHCA is a lackluster 42 percent to 24 percent, according to Quinnipiac.

But the House GOP health plan is not the law yet. Moderate Senate Republicans declared the AHCA “dead on arrival” following its passage in the House May 4, and they vowed to devise an alternative that would prevent millions of Americans from losing coverage or seeing their premiums skyrocket. Yet the reality is that moderates ultimately would have to embrace key elements of the AHCA to come up with a compromise that could pass both chambers and be signed by Trump.

So far, Senate Republicans are split on how to proceed, and McConnell said recently he is not sure how he can muster the minimum of 50 votes needed to pass a bill through budget reconciliation in the 100-seat body.

"Advisory to Republicans who support the replacement for Obamacare: Backing this bill could be very hazardous to your political health, "Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a statement accompanying the polling results.