At Times, Trump May Tap Unlikely Ally in Congress: Chuck Schumer

  • President-elect, new Democratic leader agree on infrastructure
  • Some Trump priorities don’t line up well with GOP leaders

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) participates in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, July 8, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President-elect Donald Trump may end up turning to an unexpected ally -- incoming Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer -- to pursue several major elements of his agenda.

At times, Trump’s agenda lines up more closely with that of the New York Democrat than his own party’s leaders. When Trump delivered his acceptance speech early Wednesday morning, the only policy proposal he mentioned was his desire to rebuild “our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals.” Such a plan is at odds with the fiscal restraint enforced by congressional Republicans, but echoes Schumer’s own statements.

Trump has also talked frequently about cracking down on China for manipulating its currency, something that Schumer has spent years trying to persuade presidents to pursue.

Later Wednesday morning Trump called Schumer, who congratulated his fellow New Yorker on his improbable victory.

"It is time for the country to come together and heal the bitter wounds from the campaign," Schumer said in a statement.

Trump, 70, a Manhattan real-estate developer, had long been a patron of Schumer’s political operation, donating thousands to his previous campaigns and to Senate Democrats in years past, before he embarked on his presidential bid.

Making Washington Work

Schumer, meanwhile, has spoken repeatedly in recent days about needing to make Washington work in a bipartisan way regardless of who won the presidency.

"There is a yearning among people in both parties to get things done," Schumer, 65, said in an interview before the election. "I think the party that’s seen as obstructionist is going to pay a price in 2018." That’s when Democrats will be defending 25 Senate seats to just eight for the GOP.

Of course, there will be plenty of areas where Trump and Schumer will have a much harder time finding common ground, including broader tax relief, energy policy and the president-elect’s goal of repealing Obamacare.

But Schumer has championed the idea of infrastructure spending tied to a corporate tax overhaul and has said he wants to rethink U.S. trade policies -- in particular getting much tougher with China.

China Currency

Schumer previously authored bills with South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham to crack down on China currency manipulation. Lewis Alexander, a former Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury official, said Wednesday that he expects Trump to follow through with his campaign pledge to declare China a currency manipulator on his first day in office.

Trump has said he wants to spend more than $500 billion on an infrastructure package, with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California among those on the left lauding the idea Wednesday.

“We can work together to quickly pass a robust infrastructure jobs bill," she said in a statement.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, by contrast, doesn’t have an ambitious infrastructure stimulus on his to-do list.

‘Organic’ Growth

During a Sept. 19 appearance before the Economic Club of New York, Ryan said such a massive construction program isn’t a panacea for “organic economic growth.” 

"We’re not Keynesians, so we’re not a big believer in these multipliers," Ryan said. "There’s no substitute for organic economic growth, free enterprise, private sector growth," he said about infrastructure. 

Trump explicitly mentioned jobs in calling for infrastructure spending during his victory speech early Wednesday.

“We will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it,” he said.

That statement sounded a lot like Schumer’s speech Tuesday night celebrating his own re-election, where he pledged to work to "create millions of good-paying infrastructure jobs."

Child-Care Benefits

There are several other Trump policies -- including maternity leave and child-care benefits championed by his daughter Ivanka -- that are likely to be more warmly received by Schumer and other Democrats, but which generated little enthusiasm among Capitol Hill Republicans when they were rolled out.

As an outsider, Trump may also have little hesitation about working across the aisle. During the campaign, he frequently praised onetime Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont for opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Sanders also has long backed an infrastructure stimulus to create jobs.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts also sounded a conciliatory note on Wednesday. "President-elect Trump promised to rebuild our economy for working people, and I offer to put aside our differences and work with him on that task," she said in a statement.

There are some models for Trump to follow. In 2003, President George W. Bush signed a new Medicare prescription drug benefit into law. Bush’s allies in Congress had to beat back a conservative wing upset by the creation of an expensive new entitlement program financed by debt, and relied on rank-and-file Democrats who broke from party leaders insisting on tougher terms with the pharmaceutical industry.