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Tuesday Morning Political Mix: The GOP's Very Bad Poll Day

Good morning.

President Obama just had a very bad, no good, awful day trying to explain what went so terribly wrong with his administration's health care sign-up website, and Republicans had a field day.

Today, it's Republicans who will be having just such a day.

Three major national polls show, unequivocally, that Republicans are taking the brunt of the public's anger after this month's government shut down and default crisis.

Democrats didn't fare well, either, but the early landscape for the 2014 mid-term elections looks particularly bleak for the riven-from-within Republicans.

Let's go to the numbers.

*A new Washington Post-ABC Poll reveals that the recent budget confrontations have not only "dealt a major blow to the GOP's image," write Dan Balz and Scott Clement, but also "exposed significant divisions between Tea Party supporters and other Republicans."

More than 80 percent of Americans surveyed said they disapproved of the partial government shutdown that began Oct. 1, and ended last week.

Balz and Clement write: "The survey highlights just how badly the GOP hard-liners and the leaders who went along with them misjudged the public mood. In the aftermath, eight in 10 Americans say they disapprove of the shutdown. Two in three Republicans or independents who lean Republican share a negative view of the impasse. And even a majority of those who support the tea party movement disapprove."

Sixty-three percent of Americans surveyed said they had an unfavorable view of Republicans.

The poll found fallout to go around, with Americans expressing deep dissatisfaction with Congress, including congressional Democrats, seen unfavorably by 49 percent of those surveyed.

President Obama appeared the only politician relatively unscathed by the crisis, with his approval rating at about 50 percent, the survey found.

*At USA TODAY, Susan Page writes that the new USA TODAY/Princeton Research Poll showing that only 4 percent of Americans believe Congress would be worse off if every member were replaced holds a special warning for Republicans.

Says Page: "Those findings are similar to the public's views in previous years when voter dismay cost one side or the other control of the House. In 1994, when Democrats lost their majority, 40% said Congress would be better off if most members were replaced. In 2006, when Republicans lost control, 42% held that view."

She notes that there's still a year before voters go to the poll - plenty of time for changes in the political winds. But the USA TODAY poll also finds that Republicans have lost more ground and, by a 2-1 margin, are shouldering more blame than Democrats for Capitol Hill dysfunction."Even Republicans," Page says, "presumably inclined to blame the other side, are divided about whether responsibility belongs to the Democrats or to both parties equally. That's not true among Democrats: Eight in 10 say the GOP is largely to blame."

*A post-shutdown CNN/ORC International surveyfound that 75 percent of Americans say that most Republicans in Congress "don't deserve to be re-elected."

The survey found that Democrats have an eight-point approval edge over Republicans, "in an early indicator in the battle for control of Congress," noting, as did USA TODAY, that "there's plenty of time for these numbers to change" before the 2014 midterm congressional elections.

"A majority of those questioned," CNN reported, "blamed congressional Republicans for the government shutdown and said the President was the bigger winner in the deal to end the crisis."

Let's take a turn from polls and shutdown politics for now to a crisis that has captured the attention of the nation, including Congress and the White House: sexual assaults in the military.

The new edition of Washington Monthly contains two must-read stories that will no doubt generate conversation and controversy as Congress continues to debate how best to improve the safety of women, and others, in the military, and to better investigate and prosecute cases of alleged sexual assault.

Writers Laura Kasinof and Stephanie Mencimer take in-depth looks at whether women are more affected by the trauma of combat, and at the veracity of one woman's highly-publicized account of rape by a military contractor — an account that helped galvanize action around military sexual assault.

Kasinof, noting that the Defense Department in January lifted its ban on women service in combat roles, writes: "While it's clear that war is hell for everyone, men and women alike, it's unclear how the unique female experience in the barracks, on the battlefield, and back at home may affect them differently. Female veterans are already more likely than male veterans to be homeless, divorced, or raising children as single parents. Female vets under fifty are more than twice as likely as their male counterparts to kill themselves. And a growing body of research suggests that female vets may also be more susceptible than men to psychological disorders, including PTSD."

And she anticipates the controversial nature of questioning trauma and gender differences, but says the discussion is necessary:

"Those facts and new research—indeed, the very discussion of gender differences in the armed forces—are often incendiary, but they should not be taken as an argument against equality in the armed forces. Instead, they should be the catalyst for a worthwhile discussion. After all, we owe it to our veterans to study how some women experience war and homecoming differently, and to determine what can be done to better support female soldiers—women who are now poised, for the first time in history, to be deployed in large numbers in combat positions overseas."

Mencimer, in "The War of Rape: What happened to Jamie Leigh Jones in Iraq?" delves deeply into the case of Jones, whose "terrifying story" of being raped by men working in Iraq for a subsidiary of Halliburton was covered heavily by the media.

Mencimer goes into Jones' complicated medical and personal history, reviews reports of physical evidence collected after her claim, and pores over court documents that detail how the case fell apart.

The writer says that after a jury dismissed Jones' case, she was troubled that reporters and news organizations that highlighted the story for years did not follow up.

She writes: "The story has continued to nag at me, even two years after the trial and a decade after the start of the Iraq War. Now that the trial is over, and the evidence the jurors used to come to their decision is publicly available, there haven't been many mea culpas from the reporters who helped put Jones in the limelight. Brian Ross, who scored the first on-air interview with Jones back in 2007, and whose exposé prompted Congress to act, referred my requests for an interview to a flack for ABC News, who called to ask what I was writing about and then never answered a single question. Rachel Maddow, who essentially used Jones's story to accuse thirty Republican senators of being rape apologists, never responded to repeated requests for comment. Only the Houston Chronicle, which failed to cover more than a day or two of the sensational trial in its own backyard, went back a few months later to revisit the verdict with a serious story."

Mencimer also interviews Jones, who says her claim fell apart because her lawyers couldn't compete with those at KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton for whom her alleged attacker(s) worked.

"It was a David-and-Goliath thing. To be honest with you, I had attorneys that were small potatoes, and they had these lawyers that were sharks. I was eaten alive in there," Jones told Mencimer. "If you go against KBR, they could make anybody look crazy.... They wanted to give that impression to people and to the jury that I'm just a liar. And that's not true."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Liz Halloran joined NPR in December 2008 as Washington correspondent for Digital News, taking her print journalism career into the online news world.
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