Sen. Chuck Schumer on Wednesday promised Americans “a bigger, bolder and sharper edge” to the Democrats’ economic policy and message after Senate Democrats elected him as their new leader a week after the party’s stunning defeat at the polls.
The New York Democrat’s ascension to Senate minority leader capped a four-decade career as an elected official and makes him the first Jewish Senate leader.
But Schumer and an expanded leadership team also face many hard decisions as the only brake on the incoming Republican-controlled government.
“I am humbled and honored by the trust and confidence my colleagues have placed in me,” Schumer told reporters after the 48-member Senate Democratic caucus met and backed him, as expected. “I come into this job fully aware of its challenges.”
Schumer repeated that he’s willing to work with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose caucus re-elected him to that post by acclamation Wednesday morning, and President-elect Donald Trump, who faces the task of forming his cabinet and government.
“We are ready to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Republicans, working with soon-to-be President Trump on issues where we agree,” Schumer said. “But we will go toe-to-toe against the president-elect whenever our values or the progress we’ve made is under assault.”
Schumer declined to speak about how Democrats will react to the still-evolving Republican agenda for the first 100 days of the new administration, saying his caucus would determine its response “issue by issue, case by case.”
But asked about Trump’s appointment as chief White House strategist of Stephen Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News who has been accused of racist and anti-Semitic statements, Schumer said, “We’re going to keep a very careful eye on him and Trump.”
Schumer also moved quickly to consolidate factions within his caucus by quelling a fight over the No. 2 leadership position between current Senate Whip Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who kept the post, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who remains No. 3.
Schumer also enlarged the Democratic leadership by three positions to try to bridge the party’s left-to-right ideological span. Democrats are battling internally over how to move forward after losing the White House and failing to win a Senate majority with the coalition that twice elected President Barack Obama.
The choice does not have to be between reaching out to white blue-collar workers or the more diverse Obama coalition in metropolitan areas, Schumer said. Democrats can develop a message about economic fairness and the rigged system that will reach both, he said.
Schumer named Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who made a strong challenge from the left in the primaries to eventual Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, to a new post of “chair of outreach.”
Schumer added a voice for moderate Democrats — at least five of whom face tough 2018 re-election fights in states that voted Republican this year — by naming Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) as “vice chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.”
Schumer also named Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), whose state Trump won unexpectedly, as “Senate Democratic conference secretary.”
“This team is ideologically and geographically diverse,” Schumer said. “But from the top to bottom, each of these senators has devoted their lives to fighting for the middle class and those struggling to get there.”
Schumer will meet Thursday with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is heading the Trump transition team, a Democratic aide said. Pence and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also will meet.