NPR's Ron Elving On the Progression of Partisanship

Apr 5, 2017

The complex political times continue in Washington this week with the shadow of a Democratic filibuster looming over Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court. There’s also news of revived talks of repealing the Affordable Care Act, and more reported disclosures of connections between Russian officials and members of the Trump transition team.

Ron Elving is following all of these stories closely in his role as senior editor and correspondent on the Washington desk for NPR. His long career in journalism started in Milwaukee covering city, county and state politics for the Milwaukee Journal.

In the four decades since, Elving says there has been a certain amount of back and forth when it comes to levels of partisanship. However, he notes the partisan low point we see today in Washington was established before President Trump came along.

"Donald Trump was aided in many respects by that negative atmosphere and he has promised to cure it one way or another...and perhaps he will," says Elving. "But thus far at least the effect of his presidency has been to make it all a little bit worse."

He says the increased partisanship typically associated with the House has infiltrated the Senate. "The philosophy, if you will, the mood, the atmosphere of the Senate has changed in recent years," Elving explains. "Not all at once, but progressively, and that change has made the Senate a much less cooperative place."

This lack of cooperation has made current issues, such as a Supreme Court nomination and talks of repealing the Affordable Care Act, a battleground. With a Republican majority and an unpopular president, both parties need to appeal to their base in order to win political points and gain momentum for upcoming elections.

Elving notes the potential filibuster over Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court may not result in gains for either party, especially if the nuclear option is enacted. However, he says, the Democrats may continue in order to have "the satisfaction of knowing they had done everything they could to stop a nominee they really believe may tilt the court in a direction away from their philosophy for the foreseeable future."

The same concept of appeal applies to repealing the Obamacare. "As long as we have the filibuster for legislation, (Republicans) really need more than a simple majority in the Senate. So if they're going to pull over any Democrats and hold all the Republicans, they can't be messing with the most popular things in Obamacare," says Elving. "Maybe Obamacare isn't popular, but the idea that you can't be denied insurance for a pre-existing condition and that you can keep you kids on your policy until they're 26 - those are quite popular."