Leading Senate Democrats on Sunday said they will not oppose President-elect Donald Trump’s agenda just for the sake of it and will help him lift up workers who feel abandoned by Washington, yet they drew a red line on any efforts to repeal Obamacare, erode climate protections or push measures that smack of bigotry.
Incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York and Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said issues like infrastructure and keeping jobs in America are in play, while building a border wall is not.
“We have a comprehensive immigration reform bill that builds in much tougher border security, and it had [more] bipartisan support than he’s ever called for,” Mr. Schumer told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “So we’re not going to oppose him just because it’s Trump. But we’re certainly going to stick to our values and oppose him wherever he opposes those.”
Mr. Schumer will replace retiring Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada as Democratic leader after a bruising election in which Democrats not only lost the White House, but managed to pick up only two Senate seats in a year in which many prognosticators thought they had ample room to swipe the five seats needed to retake the majority outright.
The New York senator said Democrats must face the fact that they failed to deliver a powerful economic message to everyday working Americans who rallied to Mr. Trump.
“When you lose an election like we did, you can’t flinch or look away from it. You’ve got to look it directly in the eye and analyze what you did wrong,” Mr. Schumer said. “And the analysis will continue. But my preliminary reading is very simple. We did not have the kind of strong, bold and pointed economic message that appealed to these people.”
Rep. Tim Ryan, the Ohio Democrat who is challenging Rep. Nancy Pelosi for House minority leader, said Democrats were too busy focusing on election-year issues like Zika virus funding that, while important, didn’t present a cohesive message for all Americans.
“I think things like that throw us off track. We need a brand as a party that says we’re the party that [is] going to help working-class people, white people, black people, brown people, gay people, straight people, improve opportunity for them to grow their wages, to have security, economic security,” Mr. Ryan told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Rep. Kathleen M. Rice, New York Democrat, became the first Democrat to formally endorse Mr. Ryan for minority leader on Sunday, saying “the results of this election demand that we look honestly and critically at ourselves and think about the changes we need to make in order to be an effective opposition party and ultimately get back into the majority.”
Mr. Sanders, whose primary-campaign message against Hillary Clinton resonated with some Trump supporters, encouraged the president-elect to look at raising the minimum wage, making housing more affordable or otherwise raising the living standards for Americans who backed President Obama four years ago but fled the party this year.
“If he wants to work with us on those issues, I’ll accept that,” Mr. Sanders told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
But he said there will be “no compromise” on climate protections or any legislative push that marginalizes certain Americans.
Incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus on Sunday downplayed the idea of registering people based on their religious beliefs — a fear among progressives given Mr. Trump’s rhetoric on Muslims and his decision to tap retired Gen. Michael Flynn, who once said fear of Muslims is rational, as his national security adviser.
“I’m not going to rule out anything, but we’re not going to have a registry based on a religion,” Mr. Priebus said.
Yet Vice President-elect Mike Pence refused to rule out waterboarding, an interrogation technique that’s been described as torture, in the fight against Islamic terror — a position that will alarm Democrats and Republicans such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a former prisoner of war who has denounced the practice.
“I think, in President-elect Donald Trump, you have someone who believes that we shouldn’t be telling the enemy what our tactics or our strategies are,” Mr. Pence told “Face the Nation” on CBS.
For now, all eyes are on Mr. Trump’s efforts to fill his cabinet in a series of meetings at his pastoral golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Mr. Schumer vowed Sunday to scrutinize Mr. Trump’s Cabinet picks “very, very carefully” during the confirmation process, saying Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, in particular won’t get a pass just because he’s a colleague.