WASHINGTON ― So far, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has been very good at holding his caucus together. Most notably, Democrats stood as one against the GOP’s attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
The question is whether he can do it again on tax reform.
In August, Schumer wrote a letter to President Donald Trump and GOP leaders in the Senate about the Democratic conditions for working together on a bipartisan tax bill. In particular, he said they could not support tax reform that delivered tax cuts to the wealthiest 1 percent or added to the deficit.
The entire Democratic caucus joined Schumer on the letter, except for three senators ― Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.), all moderate members up for re-election in 2018.
The White House has been courting these senators too, sensing that they might be open to a deal.
In an interview with HuffPost this week, Schumer said each member will vote as he or she likes, but he’s warning them that going along with the GOP tax bill will not help them politically.
“Every member will vote his or her conscience, but I’m telling our members that this bill is not going to be a popular bill,” he said. “In fact, for the Republicans, it’s a lose-lose. They either lose the bill, and that creates some chaos here, or they lose because they passed a bill that’s unpopular with the American people and can be used as a pretty strong weapon against them.”
“Schumer has been very helpful on this issue,” Manchin spokesman Jonathan Kott said. “He meets and speaks regularly with Manchin to point out the problems with the bill, but gives him the room to do what he thinks is best.”
The tax plan that Senate Republicans unveiled on Thursday benefits corporations and the wealthy. It calls for cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent.
“The public seems to be opposed to it, by the polling data,” Schumer said of the GOP framework. “So I think our unity is staying strong, both on the basis of what we believe and on the basis that it’s not getting a great reception. Now, the Koch brothers and the others will spend millions on ads. But so far, that hasn’t had much effect.”
Schumer has tried to work with Trump. The president notably sided with him and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in September on a deal to raise the debt ceiling and continue funding the government, over the objections of Republican leaders in Congress.
Schumer and Pelosi also thought they had a deal with Trump in September on extending protections for young undocumented immigrants, although Trump later backed off what they said he promised.
As a fellow boisterous New Yorker, Schumer is known to have a rapport with Trump that many other politicians in Washington don’t. But it doesn’t mean that they’re best friends. Trump often slams Schumer, and after an attack in Manhattan, the president essentially blamed the senator for the terrorist’s entry into the United States.
“When he tweets ― and he either praises me or calls me names ― not only does it not affect me in terms of what actions I take ... it doesn’t even bother me,” Schumer said. “It’s Donald Trump. He tweets ridiculous things all the time.”
Schumer said he’s still willing to work with Trump ― but only if it doesn’t compromise the Democratic Party’s values.
“I’m not going to obstruct him for its own sake, nor am I going to compromise for its own sake,” he added. “If we can keep our values and get something done by working with him, fine. So far, he’s been so hard right it’s been impossible. If it changes, it’s welcome. But even when you cut a deal with him, he backs off the next day ― like with the [undocumented immigrant] kids.”