Until the government shutdown last week, #Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer believed cutting a deal with President #Trump was his best chance to protect “dreamers,” the more than 1 million undocumented immigrants who had arrived in this country as children.
Now the faith has been broken, and the Democratic leader says he is charting a new path.
“Unless Donald Trump realizes that the kind of deal I offered is good for him, it’s better that he stays away,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview last week, sipping seltzer by a crackling fire in his Capitol office off the Senate floor. “If he disappears, we still, I think, have a very good chance to pass things, as long as he doesn’t mess it all up, which could very well happen.”
Schumer blames the impasse over immigration and the subsequent shutdown on Trump’s inability to strike a consistent position in private and public statements, fraying his trust in the president’s usefulness as a negotiating partner.
But the episode also publicly exposed a divide among Senate Democrats and created the greatest challenge of Schumer’s one-year tenure as minority leader. His most vulnerable members, facing difficult reelection bids this year in conservative states, were unwilling to keep the government closed over immigration. Activists, meanwhile, were enraged, and some of them convened in protest outside Schumer’s Brooklyn home.
That divide is likely to complicate Schumer’s role in this year’s midterm elections, in which Democrats hope to pick up two seats to take control of the Senate — but in which they are also defending 10 vulnerable incumbents in states that Trump won in 2016.
Schumer’s gamble, at the moment, is that failure to secure protections for dreamers will fall on Republicans — and that Trump-state Democrats will be able to survive by tacking away from the more liberal wing of the party on immigration and other issues.
At the center of Schumer’s challenges is his relationship with Trump, perhaps the most intriguing cross-party bond in Washington. While Schumer blames Trump for the impasse — and some polls agree — others squarely blame Democrats for the shutdown. For some, the burden is now on Schumer to find a way forward.