By Emmarie Huetteman
WASHINGTON – Congressional Democrats, divided and struggling for a path from the electoral wilderness, are constructing an agenda to align with many proposals of President-elect Donald Trump that put him at odds with his own party.
On infrastructure spending, child tax credits, paid maternity leave and dismantling trade agreements, Democrats are looking for ways they can work with Trump and force Republican leaders to choose between their new president and their small-government, free-market principles. Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, elected Wednesday as the new Democratic minority leader, has spoken with Trump several times, and Democrats in coming weeks plan to announce populist economic and ethics initiatives they think Trump might like.
Democrats, who lost the White House and made only nominal gains in the House and Senate, face a profound decision after last week’s stunning defeat: Make common cause where they can with Trump to try to win back the white, working-class voters he took from them, or resist at every turn, trying to rally their disparate coalition in hopes that discontent with an ineffectual new president will benefit them in 2018.
Trump campaigned on some issues that Democrats have long championed and Republicans resisted – spending more on roads, bridges and rail, punishing companies that move jobs overseas, ending a lucrative tax break for hedge fund and private equity titans, and making paid maternity leave mandatory.
Some Democrats are even co-opting Trump’s language from the campaign.
“Every single person in our caucus agrees the system is rigged,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
Still, there will be areas of bright-line disagreement. Democrats are speaking out against Trump’s appointment of Stephen K. Bannon as his chief strategist, and will oppose his promised tax cuts for the wealthy and his vow to deport millions of unauthorized immigrants.
The competing political forces were evident in Schumer’s selection of a leadership slate that reflects competing strains within the party, from Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the best-known figures in the progressive wing, to Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, one of a half dozen moderate Democrats up for re-election in 2018.
But Schumer’s immediate challenge will be to meet the often competing imperatives of those senators, who reflect the Democrats’ larger struggle of whether to try to tailor an appeal to the working-class white voters who defected to Trump or to try to increase the so-called Obama coalition anchored by minority and younger voters.
Schumer appeared outside the Senate to accept the role voted earlier Wednesday by his colleagues and announce the Democratic leadership team.
“I am going to wake up every single day focused on how Senate Democrats can effectively fight for America’s middle class, and those struggling to make it,” he said. “This team is ideologically and geographically diverse, it mixes the wisdom of experience with the vigor of youth, at least in Senate years, but from the top to bottom, each of these senators has devoted their lives to fighting for the middle class and those struggling to get there.
“As Democrats determine our way forward, I can tell the American people this: We are ready to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Republicans – working with soon-to-be President Trump on issues where we agree – but we will go toe-to-toe against the president-elect whenever our values or the progress we’ve made is under assault.”
– News political reporter Robert J. McCarthy contributed to this article.