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. Chuck 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. 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.
What is not clear is whether Trump will hew to his stated agenda or turn it over to Republican lawmakers who seek a far more traditional conservative programme.
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.
“This team is ideologically and geographically diverse, it mixes the wisdom of experience with the vigor of youth, at least in Senate years,” Schumer said.
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.
That debate is playing out in some ways in the House, where Democrats have been knotted up in an internal battle over whether Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, who hails from one of the wealthiest, most liberal districts in the nation, ought to make room at the top for a new leader, possibly from a Rust Belt state.
Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, a former football player from the ailing industrial region around Youngstown, is talking about challenging Pelosi, and the contrast he would present would be stark. Democrats need someone “like me, who has constituents and friends who are steelworkers or work in construction,” Ryan told The Youngstown Vindicator.
“The economy and blue-collar jobs are important for us as a party. We need leaders who can go into these Great Lakes districts.”
The struggle to stitch together a winning coalition will play out in the competing policy ideas that Democrats are offering.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, long a critic of trade deals, said in an interview that he had spoken extensively with Trump’s trade adviser and would work with him on issues concerning steel workers.
“We can work with him on things we agree on,” Brown said. “On Bannon, no.”
©2016/The New York Times