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Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has emerged as a champion of the left since the election, embracing stalwart liberal Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and taking the lead in fighting President Trump’s conservative Cabinet selections.

The minority leader has seized the mantle as the party’s chief defender of ObamaCare, twisting Trump’s campaign message to coin a new Democratic slogan to describe GOP healthcare policies: “Make America Sick Again.”

{mosads}He panned a new proposal by GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy (La.) and Susan Collins (Maine) that would give states power over whether to keep or replace ObamaCare as an ill-conceived idea that would “create chaos.”

The 66-year-old senator dismissed Trump’s recent executive order on ObamaCare as meaningless and has told Democratic colleagues he will not help Republicans pass legislation to replace the law if they repeal it unilaterally under a special budgetary process known as reconciliation.

It’s a marked change in tone compared to November of 2014, when Schumer criticized the decision to prioritize the Affordable Care Act ahead of economic issues that lingered in the wake of the 2009 stimulus law.

“Americans were crying out for an end to the recession, for better wages and more jobs; not for changes in their healthcare,” he said after the midterm elections at the National Press Club, a line that could have come from the talking points of any GOP senator. Republicans that year took back control of the Senate.

While Schumer has long been known as a fierce partisan, he has also had a reputation as something of a centrist who focuses on the middle class more than some liberal colleagues who are oriented toward low-income Americans.

Schumer pushed his party after the 2010 election to raise the cutoff for ending the George W. Bush-era tax cuts to families earning more than $1 million a year, a threshold benefiting New Yorkers, who have higher incomes than the national average.

Schumer’s spokesman, Matt House, disputed that his boss has in any way shifted in his support for ObamaCare, arguing he always supported the law but only disagreed with President Obama on the timing for passing it. Schumer told Obama at the time that legislation to boost job growth should have been the priority, House said.

After Trump’s stunning defeat of Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, Schumer initially struck an accommodating tone.

“We are ready to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Republicans — working with soon-to-be President Trump on issues where we agree — but we will go toe-to-toe against the president-elect whenever our values or the progress we’ve made is under assault,” he said the week after the election.

His olive branch to Trump the week after the election did not sit well with liberal activists around the country.

“Democratic leaders from Chuck Schumer down need to stop playing footsie with Trump and pretending we can find common ground on some issues without also legitimizing Trump’s bigoted, hate-fueled, un-American agenda,” warned Charles Chamberlain, the executive director of Democracy for America, a liberal advocacy group.  

By the time lawmakers returned to Washington for the start of the 115th Congress, Schumer took a harder line, pledging to work with Trump only if he abandoned GOP leaders.

“The only way we’re going to work with him is if he moves completely in our direction and abandons his Republican colleagues,” he told CNN in an interview earlier this month.

In the same interview he insisted, “We’re not playing footsie. My views are exactly the same as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders,” prompting an incredulous response from CNN’s Dana Bash.

“Since when?” she said.

Schumer’s colleagues say he is responding to pressure from the party’s angry base who want to see Democrats in Congress put up a stiff fight against Trump.

“Chuck Schumer reflects the mood of the country and the mood of the caucus,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (Hawaii), a rising star among liberal Democrats. “He understands that the mainstream of the Democratic Party and the mainstream of the country is not interested in having us split the difference on cutting Medicaid — they want us to not cut Medicaid.”

“They don’t want us to dabble in climate denial, they want us to reject it,” he added.

He and other Senate Democrats have applauded Schumer for playing offense against Trump — in their view — so effectively this month.

Schumer has latched onto Warren’s imagery describing Trump’s Cabinet picks as “swamp creatures.”

Warren led the early charge against Trump’s nominees, urging her colleagues to reject Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who is slated to become the nation’s next attorney general.

When Warren declared with regard to Sessions “there can be no compromise with racism, no negotiation with hate” — a reference to separate statements Sessions allegedly made three decades ago about an African-American colleague and the Ku Klux Klan — Schumer said he was “very concerned” about his past statements and stance on immigration reform.

Schumer announced his opposition to Sessions on Jan. 12.

Now, Schumer is the clear leader on controversial Cabinet picks and has successfully convinced Republicans to delay several Cabinet hearings. 

Instead of confirming seven of Trump’s picks on Inauguration Day, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) initially hoped, Republicans only confirmed two relatively non-controversial national defense nominees: James Mattis to serve as secretary of Defense and John Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security. McConnell has noted that on the day of his 2009 inauguration, Obama had seven Cabinet members confirmed by the upper chamber.

Schumer has also shown to have more of a deft touch than his predecessor, former Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.). While Reid bashed his GOP opponents relentlessly, Schumer picks his battles. For example, Schumer voted to approve Mattis, Kelly and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. 

While Trump has repeatedly touted his relationship with Schumer, the minority leader earlier this month got under the president’s skin. Trump called Schumer the Democrats’ “head clown.”

House, Schumer’s spokesman, said his boss has been consistent in his approach and policies. He argues Schumer is holding his ground and that it’s Trump who has lurched to the right by picking staunch conservatives for his Cabinet such as Sessions and Reps. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), the nominees to head the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Management and Budget, respectively.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has criticized Schumer for requesting a delay in the hearing for Betsy DeVos, Trump’s choice to head the Education Department, and then slamming Republicans for trying to rush through her nomination after they acceded to the scheduling concerns.

A senior GOP aide said that Schumer risked alienating “one of the most gettable Republicans” who might be open to working with Democrats on other issues later this year.

But House said Republicans agreed to postpone DeVos’s hearing after Schumer sent them a letter originally drafted by McConnell in 2009 insisting that a nominee’s Office of Government Ethics review be completed before a hearing is held. DeVos’s paperwork had not cleared in time.

Schumer has sought to rally liberals in his party by throwing down the gauntlet over Trump’s anticipated nomination to the Supreme Court.

He told CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday that he is prepared to leave the ninth seat on the court open indefinitely, a somewhat surprising stance after Democrats complained bitterly throughout most of last year over Republicans’ refusal to confirm Merrick Garland, Obama’s pick to replace late Justice Antonin Scalia. Schumer has warned Trump that he will oppose any Supreme Court nominee who is “out of the mainstream.”

Robert Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, a liberal advocacy group, said Schumer has done a great job marshaling fellow Democrats to thoroughly review Trump’s nominees.

He praised him for unveiling a $1 trillion infrastructure plan on Tuesday and challenging Trump to fulfill his campaign promises to enact a massive investment.

“I think he’s been surprisingly good, he’s brought the populist Warren and Sanders into the leadership structure,” Borosage said of Schumer’s decision to expand his leadership team. “When you bring Warren and Sanders into your own leadership structure, you’re announcing a shift.”

Tags Bernie Sanders Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer Elizabeth Warren Harry Reid Hillary Clinton Jeff Sessions Lamar Alexander Mitch McConnell Susan Collins

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