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Chuck Schumer just previewed Democrats’ plan to take economic populism back from Trump

Senate Lawmakers Address The Media After Their Weekly Policy Luncheons
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Facing unified Republican control of the White House and Congress, top-ranking Democrats are set to unveil a suite of economic policy proposals on Monday more than 15 months before the 2018 midterm elections.

The agenda — which Democrats will call “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future” — is aimed at appealing to both the diverse members of the Obama coalition and the white working-class voters who supported Donald Trump, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on ABC on Sunday.

“In the past, we were too cautious; we were too namby-pamby. This is sharp and bold,” he said.

Whether this will be enough to correct the minority party’s political woes is another question altogether. A recent poll from the Washington Post found that 52 percent of voters believe Democrats solely stand “against Trump.” Only 37 percent agreed that the party “stands for something.” Now, Schumer and his fellow Democrats are betting big not on moderating their message or tacking to the center on culture or immigration, but on stealing the label of economic populist from Trump.

While reserving the details for Monday’s rollout, Schumer noted some of the key planks in “A Better Deal,” including a $15-an-hour minimum wage, a sweeping child care proposal, and a $1 trillion infrastructure package. Schumer also teased a proposal to establish an office to go after drug companies that unfairly hike up prices, and another proposal to attack corporate consolidation and market concentration. (“How the heck did we let Exxon and Mobil merge?” Schumer said.) “Tomorrow, we’ll have a very novel idea of how to create 10 million jobs,” he added, without further explanation.

Together, these policies form a clear sign that Democrats will reject some calls for the party to move to the economic center — and instead embrace left-wing economic policies closer to Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) vision for the party. “Week after week, month after month, we're going to roll out specific pieces here, that are quite different than the Democratic Party you heard in the past,” Schumer said.

Democrats say they’re aware that advancing too many separate policy proposals could wind up backfiring. “Talking about 26 separate issues before an election to an electorate is overwhelming. You have to punch through the clutter of what everyone else is saying,” Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters on Wednesday about the party’s upcoming new messaging.

But Democrats have reason to try swinging more policy-focused. Hillary Clinton ran a campaign that was unusually devoid of policy content, at least by historical standards. Schumer’s remarks suggest that the party’s braintrust agrees, and is betting that the “Better Deal” agenda — once revealed — will go a long way toward repairing the party’s image problems.

“When you lose an election with someone who has, say, 40 percent popularity, you look in the mirror and say, ‘What did we do wrong?’” Schumer said. “And the No. 1 thing that we did wrong is we didn’t tell people what we stood for.”

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