ABC News’ Jonathan Karl and Rick Klein report: What were Republicans thinking? How could they, en masse, oppose the first major initiative of a popular president during a time of economic crisis?
Politically, the Republican mindset boils down to this: President Obama is popular, but the Democratic congressional leadership is not. They may pay a political price for opposing Obama’s plan, but not for opposing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan — even though that’s a distinction without a difference.
Two weeks ago, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., hired GOP pollster John McLaughlin to conduct a poll on the stimulus plan to define the most effective ways to frame Republican concerns.
ABC obtained a copy of a PowerPoint presentation prepared based on that poll, available HERE.
The GOP poll showed that Obama is popular (71 percent approval) and that an overwhelming majority (64 percent) approve of “Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan.”
But it showed that Pelosi, D-Calif., (34 percent favorable) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., (20 percent) are far less popular. And when asked about the specifics of the stimulus plan without Obama’s name attached, the plan loses its appeal.
Cantor presented his poll to wavering moderates as evidence that they could vote "no" without paying a political price. In the end, he convinced even those from districts won overwhelmingly by Obama. Even freshman Rep. Joseph Cao, R-La., — who beat William “cold cash” Jefferson in one of the most heavily Democratic districts in America — voted no.
As ABC’s own polling has shown, perceptions of the stimulus package — and of Obama’s approach to the economy more broadly — break sharply along partisan lines.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, praised his GOP colleagues for their unity, in a memo sent Thursday to all House Republicans.
“House Republicans said we would stand up for American taxpayers at this time of economic hardship for our nation. And last night, standing together, that’s exactly what we did,” Boehner wrote. “The vote last night sent a clear, powerful, and bipartisan message to congressional Democratic leaders about the current version of the economic ‘stimulus’ package: the American people deserve better. The current product isn’t good enough.”