Democrats See Little Upside in Working With Trump
The Trump administration, burned by its own party on its first major piece of legislation, has started to make a pitch for bipartisanship, suggesting the president is now interested in working across the aisle to secure votes on top agenda items such as tax reform.
But the interest is not mutual. And for now, at least, congressional Democrats see little incentive in working with President Trump, whose approval rating has declined further in recent days.
Instead, the GOP's failure last week on its own health care bill has emboldened Democrats who unified against it. Even when it comes to the more traditionally bipartisan actions, such as approving a Supreme Court justice, Democrats are maintaining a hard line. Notably, Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, both up for re-election next year in states Trump won, have announced their opposition to Neil Gorsuch, whose confirmation hearings have been smooth.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is leading his caucus to wage a filibuster against the president's Supreme Court nominee, a move that could backfire by forcing Republicans to invoke the so-called nuclear option. But the maneuver seems to reflect a political calculation that Democrats have little to gain through cooperation.
"A lot of Democrats don't trust Trump and don't trust the administration," Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan told RCP. "They've poisoned the well to try to actually bring the country back together and start finding things to work on together."
Ryan's northeast Ohio district encompasses areas of Youngstown and Warren, blue-collar bastions that helped to buoy Trump. While Trump lost Ryan's district, he outperformed Mitt Romney there by 10 points. Ryan challenged Nancy Pelosi earlier this year for House minority leader, arguing that the party had lost touch with its working-class constituents. But Ryan maintains Trump is "completely betraying" them with his hiring of Wall Street executives for his Cabinet and for backing an Obamacare replacement plan that the Congressional Budget Office said would disproportionally impact older and poorer Americans.
"The shine is coming off the apple a little bit," Ryan said.
President Trump won about a dozen districts that are represented by Democrats, and 10 states where Democratic senators are up for re-election in 2018. These groups could be targets of the administration in terms of reaching across the aisle. The president invited a group of red state Democratic senators to the White House earlier this year, and some supported his executive appointees. But none of them broke from their party to voice support for the GOP health care bill.
Trump "is eager to get to 218 on a lot of his initiatives, whether it's tax reform, infrastructure," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Monday. "And I think that he is going to be willing to listen to other voices on the other side to figure out if people want to work with him to get these big things done, to make Washington work, to enhance the lives of the American people. Then he’s going to work with them."
Spicer argued Democrats drew their line in the sand first, saying party leaders refused to support a repeal and replacement of Obamacare from the beginning and are now attempting to stall the confirmation of Gorsuch.
Spokesmen for both Schumer and Pelosi's offices told RCP they have not heard from the White House in terms of working together on future legislation.
It's not clear, though, that such overtures would make much of a difference for Democrats at this point.
"The minute he got into office, maybe led by Vice President Pence and some of the others, he moved so far to the hard right that it's virtually impossible for us to work with him," Schumer told ABC's “This Week” when asked about the prospects of bipartisan work on tax reform. "We're not going to oppose things because the name Trump is on it, but we're not going compromise our values away and help the well-to-do and hurt the middle-class and the poorer people; that's what he's been doing so far."
One impact of Republicans' success at the ballot box over the past several years is that there are fewer moderate Democrats left in Congress. A significant group of southern Democratic senators lost their re-election bids in 2014, and the Blue Dog coalition in the House is on the brink of extinction. The bulk of House Democratic lawmakers hail from the solidly blue states of California, Massachusetts, and New York.
"Trump might have campaigned as a populist, but Democrats actually believe in populist principles and polices," said Democratic strategist Rodell Mollineau. "I'm not sure they understand how far they'd have to go."
Courting Democratic votes would involve cutting loose the Freedom Caucus, which includes 30-40 GOP members, and potentially other more conservative members. There wouldn't likely be enough moderate Democrats to make up for the loss in GOP support. Even still, Republicans control the chamber and thus control what legislation comes to the floor and when. Democrats have little legislative power, especially in the House.
But before the White House can think about picking off Democrats, the president would have to build a relationship with a caucus that is wary and distrustful of him. "How do you make a deal with somebody who says one thing one day, and the next day says he's never said that?" said Mollineau.
Trump perhaps exacerbated those concerns last week when he blamed the Democrats for the GOP scuttling its own bill and said he would let Obamacare "explode." Democratic activists fear that Trump will use executive tools to weaken the law.
Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, refutes Trump's assertion that Democrats will take blame for future failures of the current health care law. "Since he has the power to make improvements to the law, he will be held accountable for any bumps ahead," Tanden wrote in an op-ed.
Even though Republicans pulled their legislation, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is already hitting vulnerable Republicans with campaign ads, targeting lawmakers who voted for the bill in the relevant committees. And Democrats are furiously fundraising off the Republicans' troubles. "The Republican Party’s meltdown over repealing the Affordable Care Act proved: When we do fight, we can win," Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote in a mass email.
Democrats say they are willing to work with Trump to improve Obamacare, but only if he shelves the GOP's efforts to repeal the law.
"We never prioritize party over people, so we stand at the ready to make things better," Rep. Keith Ellison, the new deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, said in an interview with CNN.
Democrats who have shown an openness to working with the new administration say the president would have more success going after smaller and more achievable pieces of legislation, such as expanding broadband to areas of need or public infrastructure projects.
"I think any bipartisan stuff seems like a long shot at this point," Ellison said. "But we've got to start taking steps in that direction."