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Democrats roll out 'Better Deal,' new economic agenda

Congressional Democrats are rolling out their economic agenda as they try to reclaim the populist mantel from President Trump ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

"President Trump campaigned on a populist platform, talking to working people, that's why he won. But as he soon as he got into office he abandoned it. ... We Democrats are going to fill that vacuum," Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said during a press conference in Berryville, Va.

Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), as well as several House and Senate lawmakers, traveled more than an hour away from the Capitol to pitch their "Better Deal" agenda.

The message comes after Democrats have spent months trying to regroup from a surprise election loss, where they were widely expected to hold on to the White House and reclaim the Senate majority.

Schumer on Monday said not having a "strong, bold economic agenda" was the party's "number one" mistake during the 2016 election.

"When you lose elections, as we did in 2014 and 2016, you don't flinch, you don't blink, you look in the mirror and ask, 'What did we do wrong?' " he said.

The first phase of the agenda includes top issues - like lowering prescription drug costs and reining in corporations - for the party's resurgent progressive wing that frequently clashed with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

"Corporate influence over our government has gotten worse under the Trump administration, far worse. President Trump has stacked his administration with a who's who of big time lobbyist, Wall Street bankers and corporate executives," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said at Monday's press conference.

Democratic bills from earlier this year, including a $15 federal minimum wage and a $1 trillion infrastructure proposal, are also being folded into their "Better Deal" agenda.

Some progressive groups quickly claimed Democratic leadership's agenda as a win for their wing of the party.

"It's a well-earned slap at Blue Dogs who preach a cautious, milquetoast, Republican-lite brand that offers voters no core values for what it means to be a Democrat," said Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

Democrats are in the minority in both the House and Senate, and their bills face an uphill path to passage in either chamber. But lawmakers argued on Monday that they need to do a better job at articulating their party's vision ahead of the 2018 elections.

"People need to know not only what we're fighting against, they need to know what we are fighting for," said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who is also the chairman of Senate Democrats' campaign arm.

But there are early signs of division between leadership and progressives. Our Revolution, an outside group linked to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), is teaming up with more than a dozen other groups to urge support for the "People's Platform" on Tuesday.

Democrats have struggled to unite the Sanders and Warren wing of their party with lawmakers from states Trump carried in the 2016 presidential election.

They have cast a wide net since their election loss as they've crafted their party's economic message.

A Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee source said Rep. Ben Ray Luj n (D-N.M.), the chairman of the DCCC, and senior staff "met with over 50 key political strategists and thinkers," including members of Sanders's presidential team.

A senior Senate aide said Schumer separately spoke with every member of the Democratic caucus on the party's economic agenda, which he has been working on for months.

None of 10 Democratic senators up for reelection in states won by Trump appeared at Monday's unveiling with Schumer and Pelosi.

But an aide for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee pledged that they would drive home the economic message as they try to hold on to key red and purple state seats heading into next year.

"The Democratic caucus took the lead in developing this message, and we'll work to drive these contrasts and themes throughout the midterm campaigns," the aide said.

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