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Schumer pitches ‘accountability Congress’ in first speech as Senate minority leader

In light of 2016 election losses, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) encouraged Senate Democrats to "look forward" at the outset of the 115th Congress (Video: Reuters)
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Since the Democrats' surprise defeat on Nov. 8, the party's base has watched nervously for any hints of compromise with President-elect Donald Trump. The nervousness reached a high after Trump and incoming political adviser Steve Bannon mulled a $1 trillion infrastructure package. Not only did incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) give the idea some tentative praise — Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the party's leading progressive voices, did the same.

Those worries faded after the infrastructure proposal (which no one has seen) was described as a package of tax breaks, and Democrats bolted. Nonetheless, Schumer, who addressed the Senate on Tuesday, the first day of the new Congress, is being watched for clues as to whether Democrats will give political openings to Trump. During his speech, the minority leader framed the next two years with the question of whether Trump can deliver for “working people, to whom he promised so much,” or whether he will govern from the right.

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“If the president-elect proposes legislation that achieves that — on issues like infrastructure, trade, and closing the carried interest loophole, for instance — we will work in good faith to perfect and, potentially, enact it,” Schumer said to a mostly empty chamber, save for several dozen of his Democratic colleagues. “When he doesn’t, we will resist. But what we will always do is hold the president-elect and his Republican colleagues in Congress accountable.”

Schumer also criticized Trump's Cabinet nominations, eight of which Democrats intend to oppose.

“Too many of his Cabinet picks support the same, hard-right, doctrinaire positions that many in the Republican Party have held for years — policies that the American people have repeatedly rejected,” Schumer said. “If Donald Trump lets the hard-right members of Congress and his Cabinet run the show … if he adopts their timeworn policies — which represent the elites, special interests and corporate America, not the working man and woman — his presidency will not succeed.”

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Schumer's bipartisan rhetoric has rankled progressives, most of whom part ways with the leader on Middle East policy and on many financial issues. But Schumer's response to the infrastructure idea and his speech to Congress have echoes of the Republican rhetoric that greeted President Obama in 2009. In his first speech to the 111th Congress, beginning his second term as minority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) repeatedly said that the White House would find bipartisan support in Congress — if it delivered something Republicans could like.

“He agrees with Republicans that we should put more money in the pockets of middle-class American families by cutting their taxes, and he has proposed working with Republicans to create jobs and to encourage long-term economic stability with a massive domestic spending bill, the details of which members of Congress and the American people are increasingly eager to see,” McConnell said then. “After a long and rough campaign season, it is encouraging for many Americans to see that the two parties in Washington are in broad agreement about something so important to their daily lives.”

Weeks later, McConnell and all but three other Republican senators voted against the 2009 stimulus package, which had been amended in the hopes of winning as many as 20 Republican votes.