Reeling after last Tuesday’s defeat, the Democratic Party gave new leading roles to its liberal wing on Wednesday, elevating Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren as the party plots its comeback under four years of a Donald Trump Administration.
Sanders won a position as chair of outreach at a leadership meeting on Capitol Hill on Wednesday morning, a role that recognizes his increased visibility after a populist election season. Warren, formerly a strategic policy adviser, was named vice chair of the conference.
As expected, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer will serve as minority leader, a role that requires a skilled and canny legislative strategist.
“We needed a much stronger, sharper, bolder economic message,” Schumer said, looking back at the election, “and we needed to let the American people know we understand what they all believe: that the system isn’t working for them, and we’re going to change it.”
The more conservative Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia won a messaging position.
Caught flat-footed by a surprise defeat last week in the presidential election, Democrats are struggling to plan for their response to the Trump Administration. The party’s leaders in Congress, including Schumer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Warren, Sanders and others, have vowed to work with Trump on items where they agree such as infrastructure spending, but have been critical of his transition team, including the pick of the alt-right spokesman Steve Bannon as chief White House strategist.
The party’s leadership in the Senate now includes a diverse crowd of ideologies and geographies, including the Midwest (Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Senator Tammy Baldwin), centrists (Manchin) as well as liberals. Sanders, who is not a Democrats but works closely with the party, was awarded his first leadership position. He will continue as the ranking member of the Budget Committee.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin remains as minority whip and Washington Sen. Patty Murray will take Schumer’s vacated spot as assistant Democratic leader.
“We’ll unite our caucus and speak to the blue-collar worker in West Virginia and Michigan as well as the people who live along the coasts,” Schumer said.
Democratic leaders are grappling with the party’s future and have decided to try to expand the party’s populist appeal. Many have endorsed Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress and an early Sanders backer, for Democratic National Committee chairman.
The debate for Democrats, who control just 13 state legislatures and count 17 governors, will be how and when to negotiate with Trump. Republicans chose in 2009 to oppose Obama’s agenda at every turn; Schumer said he would not take that route.
“When we can agree on issues, then we’re going to work with him,” he said. “We’re not going to just as some have done here in the past said, just because its President Trump’s idea or thought we’re going to oppose it per se. Where we can work together we will.”
“I’ve also said to the President elect that on issues where we disagree, you can expect a strong and tough fight,” he added.