The Hill’s Alexander Bolton penned a smart piece this morning examining how President Obama and Democrats are increasingly referring to the “Republican Congress” in what some consider a move to capitalize on the unpopularity of the legislative branch.
Bolton pointed to several instances of Democrats using the phrase, including Obama in an ABC News interview a few weeks ago:
“I’m the first one to acknowledge that the relations between myself and the Republican Congress have not been good over the last several months, but it’s not for lack of effort,” Obama told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos earlier this month.
“It has to do with the fact that, you know, they’ve made a decision to follow what is a pretty extreme approach to governance,” he said.
Then, this afternoon, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney ascribed solely to Republicans Congress’s 9 percent approval rating, neglecting to mention that Democrats remain in control of the Senate. Reports the Post’s David Nakamura:
“Another poll that shows how out-of-sync Republicans in Congress are with the mainstream is the recent one that showed a historic low 9 percent approval rating for Congress,” Carney said, citing a CBS News/New York Times poll out this week.
“I know 9 is a popular number in the Republican party, but this can’t possibly be the kind of 9 they want,” Carney said, before deadpanning his revision of GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain’s much-discussed economic plan: “9-9-9-9.”
Now it appears some congressional Democrats may be trying out the strategy of pinning Congress’s record unpopularity on Republicans’ shoulders.
“Congrats on being one of the most unproductive Congresses,” read a message sent Thursday afternoon from the Twitter feed of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s (D-Md.) office to the press shop of Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.). “Only 43 bills signed into law, less than half the average since 91.”
Cantor’s office tweeted back: “We’ll let the #facts do the talking: 800 (roll call) votes this year vs 565 last year — another reason to call on @SenateDems to act!”
And earlier Thursday afternoon, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office tweeted a note dinging Republicans for their newly-announced 2012 House schedule.
“House GOP just released Congress’ work schedule for 2012-we’re working 6 days in January. #ReallyMakesYouWonder,” Pelosi’s office tweeted Thursday afternoon. Republicans have countered by noting that the House will be in session for more days in 2012 than it was under Democratic control in 2008.
At Thursday’s White House briefing, Carney deflected questions on whether his “9-9-9-9” jab was a spontaneous one or part of a broader Democratic messaging effort.
But if the latter, there’s reason to believe that the nascent strategy may be a smart one for Democrats, according to recent polling.
In mid-March, when the Pew Research Center asked 1,004 national adults whether Republicans control the House, the Senate, both chambers or neither chamber, 56 percent of those surveyed said either that Republicans control the House (correct) or that they control both the House and the Senate (incorrect).
Pew did not ask the broader question of which party controls Congress, but the numbers above would suggest that more Americans see the legislative branch as being held by Republicans than view it as being in Democratic hands.
Another sign that the “Republican Congress” message may be fertile ground for Democrats: Overall, the majority of the Pew respondents — 62 percent — was unable to answer correctly which chambers the GOP controls. Thirty-eight percent of those polled correctly answered that Republicans control the House, but the next-largest percentage of respondents — 27 percent — was either unsure or declined to answer.
If Democrats are indeed looking to up their messaging, they might start with their base. Just 33 percent of self-identified Democrats in the Pew poll knew that Republicans control the House (and not the Senate or some other combination), compared with 39 percent of independents and 49 percent of Republicans.
Of course, the strategy of trying to pin Congress’s unpopularity solely on Republicans brings some political risks for Democrats and the White House as well. Doing so would make it hard for Democrats to take credit for any initiatives that Congress succeeds in passing. And Democrats would be vulnerable to the criticism that they have failed to lead on Capitol Hill.
Still, whether by coincidence or due to a sense that the “Republican Congress” message could prove damaging, congressional Republicans issued several gentle reminders on Thursday about who’s in charge on the Hill. Tweeted House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) Thursday afternoon:
“House Republican leaders and I will continue 2 press the Democrat-run Senate to approve the #Forgotten15 House-passed jobs bills.”