Let’s not forget that in the first few months of Trump’s presidency, we saw too many Democratic senators backing Trump’s Cabinet nominees. When Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) backed Ben Carson for housing secretary while in committee, the outrage reached a crescendo. After calls to her offices, as well as emails and tweets, she did an about-face and voted against him. From then on, Democrats realized they needed to follow the energy of the base and many consistently voted against Trump Cabinet nominees.
Still, we’ve seen Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) cave in time and again to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Trump on extremist federal judges rather than fighting hard, even if he might ultimately lose the battle. Yet Schumer, too, has gotten more backbone since the Democratic House win — both on judges and in that infamous Oval Office meeting with Trump two weeks ago.
There will be younger, more diverse and progressive members in the Democratic caucus in a few days, and they’ll be putting the pressure on. But no one should take anything for granted. The Democratic leadership could reflexively go back to its old ways at any time. (We saw this recently, when Democratic leaders blocked incoming freshman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s push for a select committee on a Green New Deal, though the proposal had enormous public support.)
The brutal fact that another child, an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy, has died in Border Patrol custody, and that we’ve seen the horrific child separation policy play out while Trump and the GOP have only endangered the fate of Dreamers further should be enough to keep the Democrats from bending. But, as I said, much of the media, itself under pressure from the GOP and the White House, will soon be loudly saying the Democrats share responsibility now that they’re in the leadership.
Any capitulation to Trump will be a disaster for the Democrats — angering progressives and, in this energized environment, even inspiring primary challenges. There’s no satisfying the media, anyway, which will likely turn around and portray the Democrats as being in turmoil.
Beyond that, caving in will embolden Trump in his temper tantrums — and embolden members of his extremist base to continue to threaten him in order to get their way.
Democratic leaders must be made to see that, no matter which way the coverage goes in coming days, the majority of American voters — progressives in their base, as well as independents and even some Republicans who broke from Trump — brought them where they are, and they’re the people the Democrats must listen to now.