Schumer Dream of Working With Trump Dissolves Into WarfareBy and
Democratic leader had talked of partnering on infrastructure
Liberals demanding full obstruction after executive orders
Things change fast in Donald Trump’s Washington.
As Trump was being inaugurated, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was talking about cutting deals on infrastructure and trade with his fellow New Yorker. Less than two weeks later, the pair are in open warfare.
Trump and his early flurry of executive orders -- particularly on immigration -- have prompted unprecedentedly early mass protests across the country, tears and resolve from Schumer, and a backlash that has tied the Senate in knots.
The resulting chaos is going to make it hard for Schumer to protect senators facing re-election in 2018 in states that went strongly for Trump while also harnessing the party’s angry base.
"It’s unprecedented levels of obstruction," Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, chairman of the Senate GOP’s campaign committee, said Wednesday after Democrats continued to force delays in Cabinet confirmations. "I think the people back home who voted for Donald Trump in those states expect his government to be filled and it’s a significant challenge how they’re going to handle it.
"They have two choices -- alienate people who live in states where Donald Trump won or pacify the Elizabeth Warren wing," Gardner said, referring to the Massachusetts Democrat. "That’s a big challenge for them."
Democratic senators and their liberal allies were already upset with Trump and his slate of extremely conservative Cabinet picks -- many of whom Republicans concede wouldn’t have been chosen if they needed Democratic votes for confirmation. Trump’s executive orders and his firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates have only escalated Democratic resolve, and Senate collegiality is fraying.
Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday that Trump hasn’t proposed a "normal Cabinet," but instead is filling it with "bankers and billionaires" and people with conflicts of interest or little expertise in the areas they would oversee.
“This is highly, highly unusual," Schumer said. "To spend a few more days on the process is well worth it."
The senior Republican in the Senate, Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, called his Democratic colleagues "idiots" after they boycotted committee votes. Schumer even voted against confirming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife Elaine Chao as Transportation secretary after she didn’t disavow the immigration ban.
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said her office received 55,000 calls urging her to vote against Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama for attorney general, and as many as 50,000 on other nominees.
“There’s a lot of fear out there,” she said. “There’s a lot of division, fear, sense of the unknown. This is such an atypical presidency.”
Party activists are demanding blanket obstruction from Democrats even as moderates want to demonstrate their independence.
"If Democrats want the base to fight for their candidates in 2018 and 2020, the party is going to have to be seen as fighting for the base. And right now, anything less than all-out obstruction fails that test," Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the influential liberal website DailyKos.com, said in an e-mail.
Moulitsas said "the Democratic brand is crap among activists" because they don’t trust party leaders, and voting for Trump’s "unqualified" nominees further fuels that distrust. Even Warren, a favorite of the liberal wing, was attacked after she voted for housing pick Ben Carson in committee.
Moulitsas is suggesting what amounts to a mirror image of the Tea Party fight against President Barack Obama: they won unified control of government through a campaign of all-out opposition, combined with threatening primaries against Republicans who didn’t fall in line, he said.
"The movement had cohesion and purpose, and it was effective," he said.
Progressives held a protest Tuesday night at Schumer’s Brooklyn home, demanding that he stiffen his spine against Trump’s policies. "No appeasement, no dealmaking, no collaboration," read the Facebook invitation.
But senators in the party’s moderate wing aren’t on board with that strategy, rejecting talk of blocking Trump’s Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch before hearing from him, while chafing at the obstructionist label.
Joe Manchin of West Virginia, which Trump won overwhelmingly, said obstructionism isn’t what his voters want to hear back home.
"It’s not why I came here. I can’t explain that in West Virginia. It’s not what I believe in. I’m not going to play that game," he said, while adding that Schumer understands where he stands.
And Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin -- a top GOP target in 2018 -- said she still hopes to work with Republicans and Trump on her "Buy America" initiative requiring tax dollars on infrastructure projects go to American products, and on other issues.
Other Democrats said constituents are split between being concerned and alarmed by Trump’s actions and wanting leaders to find a way to work together.
"There’s some real dissonance," said Chris Coons of Delaware. He fretted that Trump’s "completely unpredictable" nature and rapid changes to U.S. policy create discomfort among voters and make it harder to work with him.
"We knew it was going to be a challenge," said Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. The president’s chaotic implementation of his travel ban from seven majority Muslim countries without consulting Congress didn’t help.
"What he has done makes life more threatening for a lot of people," he said. "We heard individual cases, we heard fear. And when you provoke that, then people want you to do things out of the normal in terms of being effective in preventing this from happening."
‘Battles They Can’t Win’
Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No. 5 Republican, said Democrats are picking "battles they can’t win" and making it harder for Republicans to take their objections seriously.
"As we get to the Supreme Court, Democrats have made a fundamental mistake by objecting to virtually everybody else," Blunt said. "People’s perception of their real concern will be impacted by the fact that they appear to just find a way to be opposed to everybody."
Jesse Ferguson, a former spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, said Democrats’ strategy "shouldn’t be designed to achieve a low percent or a high percent support for President Trump," but rather based on standing up for constituents and protecting achievements like Obamacare.
"It’s certainly hard to work with someone when you can’t trust what they say or trust in their ability to do anything competently," he said.