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Sen. Schumer on Democratic opposition under Trump

As the Republican-led House and Senate seek to help President Trump deliver on many of his campaign promises, Democrats -- led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer -- plan to make it a bumpy road. Schumer sits down with Judy Woodruff to discuss the president’s debut, the challenge of repealing the Affordable Care act, Trump’s Cabinet nominees and where both parties might work together.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Republican control of the House and Senate offers President Trump an opportunity to deliver on many of his campaign promises. But Democrats plan to make that a rocky road.

    The main voice of the opposition is Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

    We sat down at the Capitol this afternoon.

    And I began by asking him how he would characterize these first days of the Trump administration.

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, Minority Leader:

    It's been bumpy, to say the least.

    The rollout, so to speak, at the CIA was really terrible, to stand on sacred ground, people who had given their lives for our country, and then to spend all his time talking about extraneous things that related to himself.

    You know, what he has to realize is, he's president, not candidate. Instead of talking about the numbers of people who showed up at his inauguration, he ought to be talking about the number of people he's gotten into the middle class, gotten good-paying jobs.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, already this morning and over the last few days, he started signing executive orders.

    One of them has to do with the Trans-Pacific partnership, the trade pact. There was another one on the Affordable Care Act. So they are making some statements, aren't they?

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    But some of these mean very little.

    The TPP was dead long before he became president. If he wanted to do something real on trade, he could have done what he promised to do over and over again in his campaign, call China a currency manipulator. He said, on the first day I'm in office, I will call China a currency manipulator.

    That would have done something.

    On his ACA, on the Obamacare, he said, keep the good things, get rid of the bad things and obey the law.

    They're so locked in a terrible position on ACA. In other words, they want to keep the good things and repeal it, but they don't know how to do it.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Isn't it entirely possible, Senator, that it could be repealed and then there could be no agreement on a replacement for months or longer?

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    Well, I think — first, I think they're going to have more trouble with repeal alone than they think.

    A good number of moderate Republicans — Susan Collins, who made this proposal, I have a lot of respect for her, even though I don't think her proposal is very good — and bunch of others, Bob Corker, have said don't repeal without replacing.

    But then there are a number of people on the hard right — particularly in the House, they have a great deal of clout — who say if you put any new money into this, we're not voting for it.

    Well, you can't do that in a replacement bill, unless you just decimate all the good things in the bill, the 20 million people who have been covered, preexisting conditions, kids 21-26 staying on their parents' plan and a whole raft of other things.

    So, they're sort of stuck. They're like the dog who caught the bus. Very easy when they're out of power to repeal it, not so easy now. So, I think the odds are at least 50/50 that they won't be able to accomplish repeal.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    This week, there have already been two Cabinet nominees of President Trump have been approved. There are a number of others. You have said there are eight or nine of them you have problems with.

    Do you think it's possible that a couple of them, one or two will not be confirmed?

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    Well, that's up to the Republicans, because if they have no defections, they can pass all of these with the changes in the rules.

    But I would say this. We have an obligation to bring to light who these people are, because this is such a unique, in a bad way, Cabinet. We call it the swamp Cabinet, billionaires and bankers.

    Why? Well, first, there are huge conflicts of interests with so many of these, because they have dramatically large financial holdings that would lend themselves to all kinds of conflict of interests. Many of them have had a great deal of difficulty filing what's required by law, 90-day plan to divest.

    Some have done it cleanly. Most have not. Many of them disagree dramatically with the views that President Trump or candidate Trump then stated. For instant, the classic is Tom Price. Trump said, I will never touch Medicare.

    Price has made his whole career on trying to get rid of Medicare.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But you're not saying he's going to be — not going to be confirmed? You're basically pointing out that there are some discrepancies.

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    Well, look, we don't know what happens.

    Mulvaney, it just came out that he didn't pay a household employee — the taxes on a household employee for four years.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Do you think he might not be confirmed?

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    Well, on the very same basis, Republicans said Tom Daschle wasn't fit to be secretary of HHS.

    We're not being dilatory. First, these people have tremendous power. To have a few days to explore who they are, and maybe when the public and some of our Republican colleagues see all the problems, maybe a few of them will vote for us and knock out some of these nominees.

    We have an obligation to bring to light who these people are, so the American people see what Trump is doing.

    Here is what Trump is actually doing. He's talking like a populist, his inauguration speech, but he's governing like a hard right-wing guy, totally different than the way he campaigned.

    So…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You mean in the people he's chosen?

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    In the people he's chosen. They're the most hard-right Cabinet we have ever seen.

    A guy like Mulvaney, who even wants to cut funding for cancer research? He's to the right of the average Republican.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But, Senator, with all due respect, it sounds like you're saying, yes, they have got — it sounds like they have got big problems, but we may have to be prepared to live with them.

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    Well, we depend on some Republicans of conscience coming forward and saying, this is unacceptable. We depend on them using the same standard they used against Democratic nominees on these Republican nominees. We don't know the outcome yet.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, let me move to something else we don't know yet, and that is who the president is going to nominate for the Supreme Court.

    You have said you don't want somebody — you want him to appoint someone who is from the mainstream, who's not off to the far — in your words, to the far right.

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    Correct.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But your friend, your colleague, the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has left it wide open that he might resort to the so-called nuclear option, where the Republicans could basically have their way with 51 votes, no matter who Mr. Trump, President Trump, nominates.

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    Well, look, first, the last two presidents have nominated four people to the Supreme Court, two by the Republican President Bush, two by the Democratic President Obama, and they all got bipartisan support.

    And I am hopeful, not certain at all, that the president will nominate someone who could get bipartisan support. If not, obviously, we will oppose them with everything we have. Certainly, I will. And I would think they wouldn't get enough support, the 60 votes, that are now required.

    So, then the Republicans will have to come to that Rubicon: Do they want to change the rules?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Let me ask you about a couple of issues.

    Infrastructure, you said you're willing to work with President Trump on a plan to rebuild the nation's infrastructure. But we have been hearing from his commerce secretary-designee, Wilbur Ross, that his idea is about having a lot of it financed privately.

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Is that something you could go along with?

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    You won't build many roads. And the ones you will have such large tolls, that the very middle-class people that Donald Trump has said he wants to help will be dramatically hurt.

    No, the only way you can do a good infrastructure bill is by a significant increase in federal spending. I have said this to president when he was president-elect. And he said, "I understand that."

    I said, you may have to break with a lot of your hard-right Republican colleagues in the House and Senate who don't like to see the federal government spending money on roads, even though that is usually what we have done throughout the past.

    And he said, "I know."

    So, we will see.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We have heard different things from different people around President Trump about what they want to do about tax cuts.

    What do you think they're going to do? Do you have a clear idea?

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    Yes, I really worry, again, because he's governing from the hard right, that the overwhelming part of their tax cuts will go to the wealthiest of Americans.

    That's been the credo of the hard right all along, reduce taxes on the very rich, and it will trickle down. That's not something Democrats or most Americans agree with. And I don't think he would get very much support for tax cuts that predominantly go to the top 1 percent. It would be against what he campaigned on. It would be a huge mistake.

    That's not the way to do things. So, middle-class tax cuts, we would look at them. Closing loopholes, he has talked about closing the carried interest loophole. We would be all for it and vote for that.

    So, we will see what he does.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Russia and Russia sanctions. Whatever is decided by Congress in terms of continuing or amping up retaliatory moves against Russia for its role in the election, isn't it likely that the Republican majority in the Senate is going to not go along with that; basically, that it won't go anywhere?

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    Well, our Republican colleagues, their credo since the days of Ronald Reagan would be to be tough on Putin and Russia, would be to increase sanctions if they did this.

    And I hope that they will — John McCain and Lindsey Graham, to their credit, have been stuck with this, a few others, Ben Sasse. But most seem to be, just whatever Donald Trump wants on foreign policy, they are going to do. They have abandoned their beliefs. And I think they're going to pay a price for that. We, the country, will a pay a price substantively, and they will pay a price politically.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Quite a remarkable display of public, strong feelings in that march on Saturday.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    I was at the New York for three-and-a-half-hours. It was exhilarating.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Many people say they haven't seen in a long time from the Democratic Party.

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But where do Democrats go from here?

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    OK.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    That was one day.

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Where do you go from here?

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    Well, but to say on the second day, there should be a whole plan and everyone is going to be marching to the polls in 2018, which would be the right thing to do, is a little premature.

    But the fact that there is such a depth of feeling and worry about this new president, the fact that women feel on the issues of choice and on the issues of Planned Parenthood and even on the issues of the Affordable Care Act, which say women have to be treated equally to men, that he's not working for them, that's going to have a huge effect.

    And I think that's going to help us over the — not just in the elections in 2018 and 2020, but over the next several months.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    How do you make sure both that you stand up for what you believe in, but you don't come across to the American people as just a battering ram of no, no, no?

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    That's exactly…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And including on these confirmations?

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    It's a very important question.

    Stick to our values. OK? If you stick to your values, then you will be guided right. That's what I have always done throughout my career. So, we're not going to oppose something because the name Trump is on it just for the sake of opposition, as Mitch McConnell did.

    If he proposes a good infrastructure plan that meets our values, we will work with him on it. If he wants to change the trade laws in a real way, we will work with him on it.

    But, at the same time, when he tries to roll over our values, repeal the protections we put for consumers and the country against Wall Street, repeal clean air and clean water, repeal health care and the ACA, undo the help and support we have given public education, we will fight him tooth and nail. And I think that's what the country wants us to do.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, thank you very much.

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    Nice to see you.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And in one final postscript, after we were done, I asked the minority leader about his personal relationship with President Trump.

  • SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

    He was saying to me he was my friend at the beginning. Then he called me some names.

    And what I have said is, either isn't going to affect me. Flattering isn't going to affect me. Name-calling isn't going to affect me. I'm going to go by what is the right thing to do in terms of our values.

    Well, I think both Democrats and Republicans have a lot of question marks about his operating style. I'm worried.

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