- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Senate Democrats promoted two of the country’s most visible liberals to leadership posts Wednesday, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi announced she’ll seek to stay on as the Democratic leader in the House as the party’s left wing pushed back.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also staked his claim to being a leading liberal voice, emerging from a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump to say he demanded the next administration nix its plans to crack down on illegal immigrants and forgo tough-on-crime measures he said would spark more tension in big cities.

A week after losing their last grip on power in Washington, Democrats have done little to shake up the team that’s led them on Capitol Hill for years. Mrs. Pelosi said she has more than enough commitments to win another term as House minority leader, while Sen. Charles E. Schumer won promotion to leader in the Senate, taking over from Sen. Harry Reid, who is retiring.

Mr. Schumer also sent the first warning shot on filibusters, signaling he won’t be afraid to use his minority to block a Trump pick to the Supreme Court that Democrats can’t stomach.

“On something as important as this, there should be some degree of bipartisan agreement,” Mr. Schumer said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is now poised to play a leading role in the vetting of Mr. Trump’s judicial picks after being tapped Wednesday as the new ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, taking over for Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, who is now set to be the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

Mr. Schumer said his leadership team will also include more moderate Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia — an attempt to get input from across Democrats’ ideological spectrum.

“There is a debate going on over whether we should be the party of the diverse Obama coalition or the blue-collar American in the heartland,” Mr. Schumer said. “Some think we need to make a choice and spend all our energy focused on one group of Americans or another. I believe that there does not have to be a division — in fact, there must not be a division.”

But the elevation of Sen. Bernard Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who join a team led by Mr. Schumer and liberal Sens. Richard J. Durbin and Patty Murray, suggested an ascendant left.

“We can’t just keep doing the same old, same old, and I think the fundamental issue is the understanding that there is a lot of pain and suffering among working people in this country,” Mr. Sanders said, adding that the rich are getting richer while other struggle.

“People are working longer hours for lower wages. They can’t afford childcare. They are scared to death of their retirement. They’ve seen their jobs go to China,” he said. “This is a reality that we have got to understand.”

The electoral prospects of Democrats have dimmed during President Obama’s two terms, having shed 63 House seats, 10 Senate seats and 12 governorships over that time.

The struggles could help explain why Democrats have yet to settle on a new leader for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of Senate Democrats, which will be tasked with getting the party back on track.

Republicans will hold an effective 52-48 majority when the Senate convenes in January — down two seats from their majority now.

But that was better than the GOP had expected to do last week, and Republican senators voted Wednesday to return the core of their leadership team, with Sen. Mitch McConnell as majority leader and Sen. John Cornyn as the majority whip.

“It’s time to accept the results of the election, to lower the tone and to see what we can do together to make progress for the country,” Mr. McConnell told reporters.

The areas of disagreement are already evident though.

Mr. de Blasio, emerging from a meeting with Mr. Trump in New York, said he expressed concern about the core of the president-elect’s campaign promises, and he vowed to oppose much of what Mr. Trump wants to accomplish.

“We’re going to stand up for our immigrant brothers and sisters. We’re going to stand up for anyone who, because of any policy, is excluded or affronted, be they members of the Muslim community or the Jewish community, members of the LGBT community, women — anyone who feels policies are being undertaken that undermine them,” he said.

Mrs. Pelosi likewise vowed to fight, firing off a letter to fellow House Democrats saying she’s ready for an eighth term as their leader.

“It is with both humility and confidence that I write to request your support for House Democratic Leader,” the 76-year-old wrote. “As of this writing, I am pleased to report the support of more than two-thirds of the Caucus.”

The letter served as a warning shot for potential rival Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who has warned the party must reconnect with working-class voters in Rust Belt and Midwestern states that feel abandoned by the party.

Mrs. Pelosi on Tuesday bowed to the pressure of rank-and-file Democrats by pushing leadership elections that had been penciled in for Thursday until Nov. 30 — giving members more time to digest what went wrong and who is best equipped to lead the chamber going forward.

Mr. Schumer, meanwhile, said Mr. Trump’s nominations to the high court should get support from both parties, and said the filibuster is a way to enforce that on a president. He pointedly noted that when his party changed filibuster rules three years ago, they left intact the ability to filibuster at the Supreme Court level.

Democrats, however, set the precedent for partisan filibusters of federal judges under President George W. Bush by blocking a series of his circuit court nominees. That launched a new phase in partisan wars on Capitol Hill — though both parties have generally steered clear of filibusters when it comes to Supreme Court picks.

The glaring exception came in 2006, when Mr. Schumer and the top lieutenants on his new leadership team tried to filibuster the nomination of Justice Samuel Anthony Alito Jr.

Their attempt, which failed, was also joined by then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Obama has since said he regrets the move.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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