Schumer's Initial Approach to Trump
Schumer Leads the Senate
Chuck Schumer was elected Senate Minority leader on November 16, 2016. This was bittersweet. Schumer anticipated working with President Hillary Clinton, perhaps even as Majority Leader. The first challenge was determining how to engage and oppose president-elect Donald Trump. Schumer spoke with Trump several times in the weeks following the election and shared that Democrats were interested in proposing populist economic and ethics proposals Trump might support.
Schumer’s initial approach to Trump understands him as a pragmatist, not an ideological Republican. Schumer, the consummate dealmaker, does not appear to have the disposition or interest in replicating Mitch McConnell’s blanket opposition to President Obama. Similarly, Trump is motivated and disposed to work with Senate Democrats when possible.
Trump tweeted that he has a good relationship with Schumer, who is smarter and better at getting things done. Though Schumer has claimed Trump is not his friend, he has had more interaction with the president-elect than other Democrat aside from the President Obama.
Managing GOP Dissension
Schumer told Trump that his $1 trillion commitment to improving infrastructure “sounded good to me.” Trump acknowledged that moving forward with this would alienate right wing Republicans. This is likely of indicative of things to come. Schumer will work with Trump when it fits with Democratic priorities and/or exacerbates rifts within an uncertain GOP coalition. Trump can ignore House Democrats, but would be unwise to do the same in the Senate with just a two seat advantage.
This is complicated by the fact that eight GOP Senators withdraw support for his candidacy during the campaign. Some, like John McCain, will not run for reelection. We have seen what that can produce. Richard Hanna, outgoing GOP Congressman from New York, ripped Trump and endorsed Clinton. The danger for Trump is that such behavior could go linger for several years, not several months.
Others, such as Susan Collins from Maine, is up for reelection in 2020, and will need to decide if she wants her fate tied to a referendum on Trump. She didn’t support him because of his “complete disregard for common decency.” Her Democratic challenger will undoubtedly juxtapose these comments with her voting record, uniquely complicating her ability to vote along party line votes.
Confirming Trump’s Cabinet
The first pivotal moment will be the confirmation process of Trump’s Cabinet. Schumer will be a central figure and appears to be heading toward a showdown with McConnell. Schumer requested the Senate Majority Leader not schedule simultaneous confirmation hearings. This would make it difficult for Democrats on multiple committees to participate and for all nominees to receive a floor vote prior to the inauguration.
McConnell has retorted that Democrats are not extending the same courtesy granted to President Obama. Schumer has countered that the Trump transition team has also not undertaken the extensive internal vetting typical for Cabinet nominations, generating greater need for comprehensive financial and ethics reviews completed by relevant government agencies prior to proceeding.
McConnell controls the schedule, but is in a difficult position. Expending political capital at this early conjuncture will only further incentivize Democratic obstruction. More importantly, McConnell must constantly manage the prospect that three or more of his caucus side with Democrats and sink whatever is being pursued by Republicans. He would be wise to bend, but not break. This would be a small victory for Schumer, one that he hopes the Democrats can build on.
Luke Perry is Chair and Associate Professor of Government at Utica College.