Last month SurveyUSA created a big political buzz by releasing a 50-state batch of polls with the approval/disapproval ratings of America’s Governors. Democrats did better than Republicans, and red-state Democrats did sensationally well. This week SurveyUSA released a similar batch of polls rating U.S. Senators, at a time when Congress as an institution, and Republican Congressmen in particular, are getting pounded in most public opinion surveys. Lo and behold, all 100 Senators have positive approval/disapproval ratings, in sharp contrast to Governors. Now, part of this result reflects the enduring reality that Governors, as chief executives of their states, are held responsible for general public attitudes about state government, while Senators can pretend they are bravely bringing home the bacon for the home folks while evading responsibility for general attitudes towards Congress, or even their party in Congress. Executives feel the heat for public unhappiness, while legislators deflect it elsewhere, anywhere. Still, the SurveyUSA ratings on Senators are interesting. Barack Obama is America’s most popular Senator in his own state, with a 72/21 approval/disapproval ratio. The least popular Senator is John Cornyn from Bush’s home state of Texas, who registers at 40/36. Notable 2006 target Rick Santorum actually has the highest disapproval rate of any Senator, with a 45/44 ratio. Ohio’s Mike DeWine continues to beg for a strong opponent in 2006, coming in at 44/43. Conrad Burns of MT is at a marginal 50/42 ratio. Supposedly vulnerable Democrat Ben Nelson is at a robust 64/26, while the other Nelson, Bill of Florida, is doing relatively well at 47/29. Among the bottom-feeders in the survey are, unfortunately, a bunch of GOPers who aren’t up in ’06, including the aforementioned Cornyn, Richard Burr of NC (42/36), Tom Coburn of OK (43/40), his colleague Jim Inhofe (44/42), and Mel Martinez of FL (43/39). In general, Senate Republicans are suffering somewhat from the plunging approval ratings of their party, but not as much as they should. And that’s something Democrats should accept as a party-wide challenge.
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By Ed Kilgore
This year’s big media narrative has been the confirmation saga of Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget. At New York I wrote about how over-heated the talk surrounding Tanden has become.
Okay, folks, this is getting ridiculous. When a vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the nomination of Neera Tanden was postponed earlier this week, you would have thought it presented an existential threat to the Biden presidency. “Scrutiny over Tanden’s selection has continued to build as the story over her uneven reception on Capitol Hill stretched through the week,” said one Washington Post story. Politico Playbook suggested that if Tanden didn’t recover, the brouhaha “has the potential to be what Biden might call a BFD.” There’s been all sorts of unintentionally funny speculation about whether the White House is playing some sort of “three-dimensional chess” in its handling of the confirmation, disguising a nefarious plan B or C.
Perhaps it reflects the law of supply and demand, which requires the inflation of any bit of trouble for Biden into a crisis. After all, his Cabinet nominees have been approved by the Senate with a minimum of 56 votes; the second-lowest level of support was 64 votes. One nominee who was the subject of all sorts of initial shrieking, Tom Vilsack, was confirmed with 92 Senate votes. Meanwhile, Congress is on track to approve the largest package of legislation moved by any president since at least the Reagan budget of 1981, with a lot of the work on it being conducted quietly in both chambers. Maybe if the bill hits some sort of roadblock, or if Republican fury at HHS nominee Xavier Becerra (whose confirmation has predictably become the big fundraising and mobilization vehicle for the GOP’s very loud anti-abortion constituency) reaches a certain decibel level, Tanden can get out of the spotlight for a bit.
But what’s really unfair — and beyond that, surreal — is the extent to which this confirmation is being treated as more important than all the others combined, or indeed, as a make-or-break moment for a presidency that has barely begun. It’s not. If Tanden cannot get confirmed, the Biden administration won’t miss a beat, and I am reasonably sure she will still have a distinguished future in public affairs (though perhaps one without much of a social-media presence). And if she is confirmed, we’ll all forget about the brouhaha and begin focusing on how she does the job, which she is, by all accounts, qualified to perform.