Senate Democrats’ Hopes for Populist Alliance With Trump Fizzle
(Bloomberg) -- For U.S. Senate progressives like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the possibility of working with a populist Donald Trump on at least a few liberal goals was nice while it lasted.
Now they’re attacking the Republican president-elect’s nomination of Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnuchin for Treasury secretary. They’re threatening a battle over the pick of Obamacare foe Representative Tom Price as secretary of Health and Human Services. And they’re demanding Trump retract his unproven claims of voter fraud.
Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, says he’s more skeptical by the day about finding areas of agreement with Trump.
“They’re breaking promises right and left already,” he said. “It’s a billionaire president surrounding himself with wealthy Cabinet members who are already building toward a billionaire agenda.”
Sanders blasted Trump’s agreement to keep 1,100 United Technologies Corp. Carrier factory jobs in Indianapolis in exchange for $7 million in Indiana state tax and other incentives. In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Sanders said the deal showed that prosperous companies can get tax benefits by threatening to send jobs overseas.
Played for ‘Suckers’
“Does he have any intention of keeping his promises or has he played Americans for suckers?” Sanders of Vermont wrote on Twitter late Wednesday. He said 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney -- now a potential secretary of state -- was right earlier this year when he called Trump "a phony, a fraud."
Immediately after the November election, Sanders and other liberal Democrats said Trump’s campaign promises opened the possibility they could work with him on revising trade deals, raising the minimum wage, providing new infrastructure spending and reinstating Depression-era banking restrictions.
Instead, these senators will almost certainly be Trump’s toughest critics, said Eric Uslaner, a political science professor at the University of Maryland. Progressive Democrats may have far more to gain politically by opposing rather than working with Trump, he said.
“When these Democrats see Trump’s overall agenda, they’re not going to see much they like,” Uslaner said. “And they are going to fight Trump on much of what he does.”
The president-elect’s Cabinet choices are drawing the most fire so far.
The choice of Mnuchin for Treasury was labeled “hypocrisy at its worst” in a joint statement by Warren and Sanders, who called Mnuchin a “Wall Street insider” whose selection goes against Trump’s pledge to take on banking billionaires. Brown, the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, was just as pointed.
“This isn’t draining the swamp -- it’s stocking it with alligators,” Brown said.
Most Democrats join the liberals in opposing Trump’s choice of Price to lead Health and Human Services because the House Budget chairman wants to dismantle Obamacare and has supported cutting Medicare and Social Security. Trump said during the campaign he wants to repeal Obamacare immediately but promised to preserve Medicare and Social Security.
“What hypocrisy!” Sanders said on Twitter this week. “Mr. Trump needs to tell the American people that what he said during the campaign were just lies, or else appoint an HHS secretary who will protect these programs and do what Trump said he would do.”
Warren said last week she won’t support Trump’s nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama for attorney general. She noted that his nomination for a federal judgeship 30 years ago never got out of a Senate committee after testimony that he had made racially offensive remarks.
Warren also said in a letter to Trump that he was staffing his transition team with lobbyists, Wall Street bankers and “industry insiders." She called on him to replace them with advisers who would fight for the middle class.
“Should you refuse, I will oppose you, every step of the way, for the next four years,” Warren wrote. “I will champion the millions of Americans you will fail to protect. I will track your every move, and I will remind Americans, every day, of the actions you take that fail them."
Sanders is also casting doubt on whether he could work with Trump on the issue seen most likely to draw Democratic support -- expanded infrastructure spending. Sanders said last week that Trump’s plan for as much as $1 trillion for infrastructure projects was a “scam that gives massive tax breaks to large companies” instead of providing new taxpayer dollars.
Trump’s comment on Twitter last weekend that he would have won the popular vote over Democrat Hillary Clinton if "millions" of illegal votes were excluded has drawn some of the toughest criticism. On Conan O’Brien’s TV show Tuesday night, Sanders called such a claim “delusional” and “insane.”
Brown, in a letter to the president-elect this week, said Democrats can work with him only “if you retract your false statements and commit to rebuilding our democracy -- not tearing it down.”
Brown said in an interview that he still hopes to work with Trump’s administration to improve trade deals and boost infrastructure spending, “but they’re not off to a good start.”
Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, said she hopes Trump will keep his campaign promise to raise taxes on managers of hedge funds and private-equity firms. Still, she said, it’s becoming clearer that she and other populist Democrats won’t find many areas of agreement with him.
“Sadly, there are too few of them,” she said.