Donald Trump is still two weeks from his presidential inauguration, but new Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer sounds ready to do battle with a Republican-controlled Senate, House and White House.
“We’re going to hold Donald Trump’s feet to the fire,” the New York Democrat told NPR’s Audie Cornish on All Things Considered while sitting in front of the fireplace near his desk. “Our job is going to be to hold Donald Trump and the Republican majority accountable.”
Schumer hasn’t quite moved into his suite of Capitol offices. Boxes are heaped in corridors and naked hooks poke from the walls of Schumer’s ornate chambers on the second floor. Just outside the windows is the inaugural podium being built and beyond it, the National Mall.
Inside, amid the clutter, the new Senate minority leader is wasting no time defending Democratic policies and programs from the incoming administration and its congressional allies, even if he has less leverage than he had hoped to have.
Schumer hinted at the Democrats’ relatively weak position, as Republicans move quickly to repeal Obamacare. He repeatedly said Democrats would not cooperate with any Affordable Care Act replacement if the GOP pushes ahead with repeal, but then allowed that “there might be a thing or two” in competing Republican plans he finds appealing.
He also brought negotiations into the open by putting public pressure on GOP senators from Maine and Alaska to vote against repeal.
“Now they want to eliminate the funding of Planned Parenthood,” he said, referring to a plan by House Speaker Paul Ryan to include such provisions in legislation undoing Obamacare, “so people like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are having some qualms about this.”
Schumer hinted at some of the legislative maneuvers Democrats may employ to stymie Obamacare repeal.
“We’ll have an amendment on the floor of the Senate, as we debate ACA,” he explained, “that quotes Donald Trump and says we’re opposed to cutting health care — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security for that matter.”
Before his intelligence briefing today, the president-elect told the New York Times that the attention devoted to Russian attempts to influence the election is “a political witch hunt.”
Schumer called that “flip and glib.”
“Before you even get the briefing, you come to a conclusion — that’s not the way to govern,” he said. “And I have said … that we can’t have a Twitter presidency. This is serious stuff, this governing, and to just be flip and glib and tweet … you’ve got to do a lot more. And certainly any president — Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative — should keep an open mind until they get the briefing.”
Schumer also responded to Trump’s calling him a “clown.”
“I didn’t tweet back a name — that’s derogating the debate,” Schumer said. “I said I understand your anguish, Mr. President-elect, because you don’t know what to replace the ACA with. But instead of calling names, roll up your sleeves and come up with a replacement. So I’m not going to descend to name-calling.”