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News: Politics

Voters think lawmakers care more about party than country. How will that play out in midterms?

The Washington Post logoThe Washington Post 2/10/2018 Eugene Scott
U.S. President Donald Trump talks with members of Congress as he departs after delivering his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2018. © REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File U.S. President Donald Trump talks with members of Congress as he departs after delivering his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2018.

President Trump praised Republican lawmakers for zealously supporting him during his first State of the Union address.

During a speech in Cincinnati on Monday, he reflected on how he was received during his first visit to the House chamber for the annual speech:

“You’re up there. You got half the room going totally crazy, wild, loved everything. They want to do something great for our country.”

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But voters aren’t as convinced that Republicans in Congress have their best interests in mind.

According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, the overwhelming majority — 71 percent — of voters say Republicans in Congress put party over country.

And one of the specific areas where voters believe the GOP is most self-serving is the party's perceived effort to interfere in the Russia probe.

As the wide-reaching investigation continues into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, and into possible obstruction of justice by the president, the poll found that 46 percent of voters say there are efforts from the GOP to obstruct special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation.

Among independent voters, a key voting bloc behind Trump’s 2016 victory, nearly half — 49 percent — believe Republicans in Congress are trying to derail the Russian probe.

This perception of the GOP should be of high concern for Republicans headed into the midterms. If they want to carry out their agenda, they need to maintain their majority in Congress. But it is worth noting that most voters are not Republicans, according to Gallup.

At a retreat for congressional Republicans last week, Trump attacked Democratic lawmakers and told his fellow party members that if they win more seats they will not have to “compromise” on their desired legislation.

But winning more seats for lawmakers loyal to a pretty unpopular president could be difficult in this political climate. Just Tuesday, the president said he'd “love” a government shutdown, if Democrats refuse his immigration proposal.

The controversial comment again fanned the flames of an already tense budget situation ahead of a possible shutdown Friday. But if there is a shutdown, Republican voters are likely to hold Congress responsible, not the president, given how loyal the Trump base is.

The president has increasingly attempted to portray Democrats as enemies of the American people, going so far as to suggest Democratic lawmakers are “treasonous” for not clapping during his State of the Union — although his press secretary later said he was “clearly joking.” Accusing Democratic lawmakers of betraying their country obviously inflamed voters on the left, who consider efforts led mostly by Democratic lawmakers to prevent Russia from interfering in future elections as proof of their loyalty to American citizens.

But any Democrats who believe that low approval of Republican lawmakers automatically means high approval for their side of the aisle are mistaken.

According to the same poll, 63 percent of voters say the Democrats put party over country.

What is clear is American voters are not confident that their representatives are prioritizing them, and there could be real consequences for this fall — perhaps for both parties. But given the GOP’s current position of power, if the public’s perception of their party does not change, predictions that the midterm elections could lead to an unfavorable outcome for them could be a reality.

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