“The only honest answer is that the election has made it difficult in the committees,” said Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, who longs for bipartisan solutions to at least some of the flaws in the health care law.
Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times
The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, recently told committee leaders like Mr. Alexander to “bring me bipartisan bills that are good for the country and I’ll put them on the floor,” Mr. Alexander said. But so far, they have not been forthcoming.
Mr. Trump has shunned Senate Democrats despite early flirtations about working with them. While President Barack Obama certainly pressed forward with a liberal agenda when Democrats controlled Washington during his first term, he spent time and energy trying — and failing — to woo Republicans to join in passing the health care and even the stimulus bills.
“We haven’t been consulted at all,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, who seems to have settled into implacable opposition. “I hope and really expect in the next several months that will change.” For congressional Republicans, he said, the result of shunning the minority and pursuing a strongly partisan agenda was, “They are not getting anything done.”
While the slow and steady slide to total partisanship is now a decade long, historians struggle to find a recent period of relative and comparable inaction.
“The only historical analogies I can think of are 19th century,” said Donald A. Ritchie, a historian emeritus of the United States Senate, referring to a time when the Whigs and the Democrats were at each other’s throats. Republicans and Democrats were also highly polarized during Reconstruction. And the late 18th and early 19th centuries featured nasty battles between the Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans.
Throughout most of the 20th century, Republicans and Democrats, while divided over the proper role and scope of government, generally managed to confirm nominees, fund the government and pass significant legislation together.
In some ways, Mr. Trump has caused the constriction. Although Republicans looked forward to reducing regulations and changing the tax code — and both parties were interested in fixes to the nation’s infrastructure — Mr. Trump pushed them to work to repeal the health care law after years of promising to do so.
He has also hampered their agenda by being remarkably disorganized in his nominations and by not putting forward important subcabinet nominees for a vote.
“The Trump administration has been slow in staffing up,” Mr. Alexander said. Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the judiciary committee, who often boasts of his bipartisan bona fides, said that “nominees have to have the top priority” right now.
For their part, Democrats, still seething from the election and eager to please their affronted base, have done all they can to stymie what little the Republicans have tried to do, dragging out cabinet nominations to the best of their procedural ability and instigating a nasty fight over Mr. Trump’s choice for the Supreme Court that ended a decades-long tradition of bipartisan comity on such nominees.
“Everyone is looking ahead to the next election all the time, and this appears to be a tipping point,” said Brian Walsh, a former Republican aide in the Senate. “Democrats are catering to their base, and their base is beside themselves that President Trump is in the White House.”
The nature of the parties themselves — and the Americans who support them — has had perhaps the deepest impact of all.
Credit Al Drago/The New York Times
A Pew Survey conducted last spring found that anger and distrust among Americans for opposite party members was at its highest level in nearly a quarter-century. Among those polled who said they voted regularly and either volunteered for or donated to campaigns, 70 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Republicans said they feared the other party.
“There are two dimensions here,” said Sarah A. Binder, a professor of political science at George Washington University. “There is the degree of polarization among voters, and how apart the parties find themselves.”
She noted that changes to Medicare, the welfare system, environmental regulations and other laws were once accomplished with broad coalitions of members from both parties that no longer really exist in Congress.
“If there is anything specific to Trump here,” Ms. Binder said, “it is his historic degree of unpopularity, which means there is very little hope or chance that he could provide cover for his own party to take controversial votes, and no chance in hell Democrats will take such a vote because the president has asked them to.”
Republicans have made it clear that they will not be working with Democrats on health care or on changes to the tax system.
But they insist that other areas will offer new opportunities. For instance, Mr. Alexander’s committee recently passed four bipartisan public health bills that will soon head to the Senate floor. Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, said he expected an infrastructure effort to emerge. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said a bill on Iran sanctions would soon be forthcoming.
Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, said he was working with Democrats on mental health and child abuse bills, among other things.
“These are really big things,” Mr. Blunt said. “But I do think we need to look for more things to establish a situation where we are making bipartisan policy again.”