"Our caucus agrees the system is rigged": Senate Democrats are ready to work with Trump

It was fun reading this story and being reminded of how much of Trump’s agenda is Democratic-friendly. Not all of it, especially the big-ticket stuff about building the wall, undoing the Iran deal, and of course replacing ObamaCare. But there’s enough common ground there to keep Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi busy cutting deals for most of Trump’s first term — if the left will let them.

And that’s the question.

On infrastructure spending, child tax credits, paid maternity leave and dismantling trade agreements, Democrats are looking for ways they can work with Mr. Trump and force Republican leaders to choose between their new president and their small-government, free-market principles. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, elected Wednesday as the new Democratic minority leader, has spoken with Mr. Trump several times, and Democrats in coming weeks plan to announce populist economic and ethics initiatives they think Mr. 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 Mr. 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…

Some Democrats are even co-opting Mr. Trump’s language from the campaign. “Every single person in our caucus agrees the system is rigged,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan.

Imagine Schumer’s dilemma. On the one hand, as much as he and his caucus might loathe Trump’s immigration and health-care policies, they’ve been gifted with a rare Republican president who actually will work with them on some policies. If they’d gotten President Cruz it would have been the Obama presidency in reverse, with the two parties poles apart ideologically and irreconcilable. With Trump, all the Berniebros who despise free trade and want more federal benefits for the working poor have something to smile about. And Trump is a dealmaker by nature, as he likes to remind everyone every five minutes. Schumer can get some Democratic priorities on the books and off the table in the Senate if he’s willing to compromise. But will liberal activists let him? That’s what this post last night was about. Looking ahead to 2020, the last thing leftists want to do is hand some Trump some major bipartisan victories he can tout, especially victories on things that might help the working class. It might be years before they claw back the Rust Belt states from Trump and the GOP if blue-collar whites and — gasp — nonwhites see a Republican president delivering on the populist wish list. Shouldn’t they obstruct him at every turn and then, when he has little to show the public in 2020 for his first term, blame him for having accomplished nothing?

Yep, says Democrat Greg Sargent. This is a time for resistance. Sink this presidency:

You may remember that literally on the day Barack Obama was inaugurated, Republican leaders got together for dinner and decided on a strategy of total opposition: Don’t work with him on anything, fight to make every initiative fail, and generally make his life miserable in the hope they could take back Congress and keep him from winning reelection. Though Obama got reelected, otherwise the strategy was a tremendous success.

It grew from some critical insights Mitch McConnell in particular had about the way the public interprets what goes on in Washington, beginning with the understanding that the overwhelming majority of voters have only a superficial sense of what’s going on and only pay attention sporadically. That means that things that might seem important in the capital — like whether you got condemned by the Times and the Post editorial pages this morning for some act of obstruction — have very little practical impact, and you can endure the criticism if you’re getting something you want. In fact, obstruction is generally something you’re unlikely to pay a price for, because most voters will decide that “Washington” isn’t working, and put blame on the party that holds the White House, even if the fact that it isn’t working is completely the other party’s fault.

Obstructionism could work as well for Democrats as a political strategy as it did for Republicans in that Trump and Obama were each sold as messianic figures. Obama was going to bring Hopenchange back to America after Bush’s dreary second term; Trump is here now to make America great again. Every president needs some policy successes to show voters, but messianic presidents need them especially. Otherwise their image as a world-beating national savior crumbles and the mystique is gone. Obama did have some big-ticket stuff he could point to in 2012, thanks in part to a filibuster-proof majority in Congress during his first year: The stimulus, universal health care, withdrawal from Iraq, and the Bin Laden raid. He won, but that’s the only time recently that Democrats have won. It’s been all GOP otherwise since 2010. And unlike Trump, who’s at 42/55 in Gallup’s new poll of favorability today, Obama started off very popular. All of that being so, why should Dems throw in with Trump instead of firmly opposing him?

Like Obama in 2009, Trump has majorities in both houses of Congress too — but it’s not filibuster-proof in the Senate, which is why this morning’s post about Orrin Hatch and Lindsey Graham is so important. Sargent and Chuck Schumer need to consider carefully that an obstruct-at-all-costs strategy might lead to them losing their power to obstruct altogether, and sooner than they think. I think Hatch et al. will hold out on ending the filibuster at first, but Republican voters understand that this opportunity to set policy without Democratic interference is precious and unlikely to come again soon, particularly as the country’s demographics change to favor Dems. Do you want a protectionist trade policy that’s partially shaped by Schumer, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Sherrod Brown, or do you want one where they’re shut out because their filibuster power is yanked away and Trump alone end up getting credit for it among Rust Belt voters in 2020? Your only hope here as a Democrat in favoring omnibus obstruction is that Paul Ryan and McConnell will stand up to Trump and refuse to rubber-stamp leftist policies like that, leaving Trump with no major working-class accomplishments. After a year and a half of watching both of them kowtow to Trump, I wouldn’t assume that they’ll stand up to him ever. On anything. And the balance of power in the Senate is only likely to get worse for Democrats: The 2018 map strongly favors Republicans, so if the filibuster ends up getting nuked and Republicans end up gaining seats in two years, Trump might be able to propose virtually anything he wants in the final two years of his term with little worry about anything being voted down in the Senate. Obstruction as a strategy could end up being ineffective or totally counterproductive.

Besides, there’s always a chance if Schumer makes nice with Trump that Democrats can end up as a key lever for him against Republicans in Congress. Imagine Trump floating a porktastic infrastructure bill that most of the Democratic caucus in the House and Senate supports and a decent chunk of Republicans in both chambers agrees with, whether because they’re centrists who don’t mind stimulus spending or because they’re simply afraid to oppose Trump and face the wrath of GOP voters back home. If Trump knows he can find bipartisan majorities in both houses to pass his bill, he could use that fact to pressure McConnell and Ryan publicly to at least bring it to the floor even if they and their conservative allies plan to vote no. That is, I think there’s a chance that Trump will be willing to govern as a de facto Democrat on certain policies even over the objections of the GOP leadership in Congress if he has partners in Schumer and Pelosi who are willing to whip votes for him. Sargent seems ready to throw that opportunity away in favor of a maximalist “win back the White House strategy” in 2020. Fair enough, but the more Trump comes to realize that he can’t depend on Democratic help, the more obliged he may feel to go along with Ryan’s more conservative agenda on some policies simply in the name of getting something done. He’s not going to dictate terms to the House on everything, as he’s likely to do with trade. On some issues he may prefer a more moderate position than Ryan’s but will end up deferring to Ryan because there simply aren’t Dem votes there to make a more centrist or left-leaning alternative viable.

Anyway. Here’s Trump nemesis Elizabeth Warren talking about working with him this week. Note the passage that starts at 8:19.