WASHINGTON (AP) — In the weeks after November’s election, President-elect Donald Trump and incoming Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer sounded like potential allies.
Trump tweeted about their “good relationship” and Schumer’s “ability to get things done.” Schumer spoke of issues such as infrastructure and trade where Trump had embraced Democratic positions, and the New York senator cited common ground with the next president on “a good number of economic issues.”
But just days into the 115th Congress, the Trump-Schumer courtship has already turned cold, and the onetime potential allies now sound more like antagonists.
Instead of praising Schumer over Twitter, Trump has taken to attacking him as Democrats’ “head clown” in their party’s defense of President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Schumer goaded the president-elect by repurposing Trump’s campaign slogan into Democrats’ new rallying cry against GOP efforts to repeal the health law: “Make America Sick Again.”
“For my whole life I’ve focused on the middle class and those trying to get there, and that is going to be my gyroscope for the term, and how much to work with him,” Schumer told The Associated Press. “How much does he help the middle class, or how much is he just catering to the elites. The first few weeks, he seems to be catering to the elites.”
Trump’s transition team did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump has tapped corporate and Wall Street executives for his Cabinet, and congressional Republicans are making a partisan drive against the health law their first order of business. With that in mind, Schumer and other Democrats complain that Trump is abandoning areas of potential common ground even before he’s sworn in.
Yet given that the fellow New Yorkers are both deal-makers with pragmatic streaks, allies see the potential for them to work together at some points in the years to come, as long as each sees it in his best interest.
Schumer and Trump have spoken by telephone four or five times since the Nov. 8 election, but not in the last few weeks, according to an official with knowledge of the conversations who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose private interactions.
Though Trump will be an unfamiliar figure to most of establishment Washington when he takes office, he goes back decades with Schumer, whose minority caucus could exercise veto power over much of Trump’s agenda thanks to Senate filibuster rules.
Schumer grew up in Brooklyn and Trump in Queens. Each is media-savvy, with big personalities, reputations as hard bargainers with talkative natures. They’re accustomed to doing business over the phone in back-to-back-to-back calls, while eschewing email. Both have at times become punchlines for their respective efforts to get their names in the headlines.
Trump, a former Democrat, has donated thousands of dollars to Schumer over the years, most recently a $2,000 contribution in April 2010, and Trump’s children have done the same.
“I’ve known Schumer for many, many years. And I have a good relationship with him,” Trump told Fox News Channel in 2011.
In 2008, at Schumer’s request, Trump hosted a fundraiser at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Schumer then headed.
At the October white-tie Al Smith charity dinner in Manhattan, the Republican nominee joked that Schumer “used to love me when I was a Democrat.”
But Schumer allies and the senator himself dispute the suggestion that Schumer and Trump have ever been particularly close, saying their acquaintance has been casual, and they’ve never even dined together or gone golfing.
Jim Kessler and Stu Loeser, who both worked for Schumer for years, said they couldn’t remember Schumer and Trump ever speaking. While Trump and Schumer both spent their lives in New York, the former aides said the two never traveled in the same circles.
Schumer, Kessler added, is generally not swayed by flattery, a tactic that is one of Trump’s favorites, or affected by name-calling.
But when there’s a chance to make a deal Schumer will take it, even if it involves working with Republicans, as he did on a massive immigration overhaul that passed the Senate in 2013 but died in the House.
“He’ll work with people he doesn’t agree with on things where he can find common ground,” Kessler said.
For Schumer and Trump, the most prominent of those issues would appear to be infrastructure and trade.
Trump spoke during the campaign of a $1 trillion bill to update the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges, a dollar figure that alarms some congressional conservatives but that Schumer has embraced. On trade, Schumer is closer to Trump than to Obama in opposing multilateral deals such as the 12-nation Asia-Pacific pact that’s now languishing.
Both issues appear to be on the back burner on Capitol Hill at present, with health care, tax reform, and perhaps some action on a border wall crowding the immediate agenda. It’s likely that Congress will turn to public works at some point this year or next, though, and when that happens, Schumer and Trump will have to decide whether it behooves them both to make a deal.
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