Trump's sinking polls embolden Democrats to play hardball

Democrats emboldened by President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor NBA to contribute 1 million surgical masks to NY essential workers Private equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report MORE’s sinking poll numbers are playing hardball on spending and guns legislation, arguing they now have new leverage with Republicans and the White House.

Republicans say a budget deal reached before the recess now appears in doubt after Senate Democrats on Tuesday insisted on an amendment to block Trump’s Title X rule, which prohibits funds for health care providers who share information about abortion.

ADVERTISEMENT

At the same time, Democrats are gearing up to reject a gun violence proposal expected from the White House as soon as Thursday if it falls short of the proposal sponsored in 2013 by Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPoliticians mourn the death of Bill Withers Pressure mounts for national parks closure amid coronavirus White House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package MORE (D-W.Va.) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns MORE (R-Pa.), which garnered only four Republican votes at the time.

It’s a shift for Senate Democrats, who at times during the Trump era have voted with Republicans on high-profile bills. The shift underscores the party’s growing confidence that Trump could be defeated next fall, and it comes as a number of polls have shown various Democrats defeating Trump in head-to-head match-ups.

“He’s an unpopular president doing unpopular things,” said Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzLawmakers, labor leaders ramp up calls to use Defense Production Act Trump faces mounting pressure to unleash Defense Production Act Rand Paul's coronavirus diagnosis sends shockwaves through Senate MORE (D-Hawaii).

“This is not terribly complicated,” added Schatz, who criticized Trump for repurposing funds for military projects to pay for the wall on the border, an action he argued violated the law.

“You don’t have to be a master of the Senate to figure out that for most people representing most states, the wisest thing on policy and politics is to oppose him,” he said.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll published Tuesday shows that Trump’s approval rating among voting-age Americans has fallen to 38 percent, down from 44 percent in early July.

The same poll found former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSome Sanders top allies have urged him to withdraw from 2020 race: report Sunday shows preview: As coronavirus spreads in the U.S., officials from each sector of public life weigh in Trump defends firing of intel watchdog, calling him a 'disgrace' MORE ahead of Trump, 55 percent to 40 percent.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSome Sanders top allies have urged him to withdraw from 2020 race: report We're at war and need wartime institutions to keep our economy producing what's necessary Larry David: Bernie Sanders should drop out of 2020 race MORE (I-Vt.) beat Trump in that poll by 9 percentage points and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog Biden says his administration could help grow 'bench' for Democrats Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill MORE (D-Mass.) was ahead of Trump by 7 percentage points.

An Emerson poll in New Hampshire found all three of those candidates ahead of Trump in the swing state, along with various other second-tier Democratic candidates. Tech businessman Andrew YangAndrew YangAndrew Yang: Calling coronavirus 'China virus' only used to incite 'hostility' Andrew Yang to launch issues-based podcast Majority of young Americans support universal basic income, public healthcare: poll MORE led Trump in the Emerson poll of New Hampshire 54 percent to 46 percent.

The poll numbers are leaving Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerBiden calls on Trump to appoint coronavirus 'supply commander' Democrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots Schumer doubles down in call for Trump to name coronavirus supply czar MORE (N.Y.) and his caucus feeling like they can draw a hard line on spending issues, with confidence that Republicans will get blamed for a shutdown.

Republicans are accusing Democrats of playing politics in the spending fight.

The Senate returned to Washington this week hoping to take action on a few massive spending deals before approving a stopgap measure to keep the government open in October.

Instead, those negotiations have largely stalled amid the fights over Trump’s wall and abortion.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor Progressive group knocks McConnell for talking judicial picks during coronavirus Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill MORE (R-Ky.) called the Democratic insistence on the Title X amendment “a troubling development.”

“I think it’s a disturbing development,” he added. “We don’t want to have the chaos that’s associated with government shutdowns.”

But Democrats on Wednesday said they’re not backing down.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayTrump administration issues guidance scaling back paid leave requirement for small business employees Senate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday Senate Democrats propose canceling student loan payments during coronavirus MORE (D-Wash.), the sponsor of the amendment to block Trump’s rule, said there has always been bipartisan support for Title X funding and argued that Democrats never agreed to jettison policy riders from this year’s appropriations bills.

“I just disagree completely,” she said of McConnell’s claim that Democrats are trying to jam a poison-pill amendment into the bill funding the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. “This has been a bipartisan support of Title X for a long time. This is not a poison pill. This is something we have agreed on in a bipartisan basis before.”

Democrats are also signaling they intend to stand firm in demanding action on the Manchin-Toomey background check bill, which the Senate voted down in 2013 and 2015.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog Testing struggles emerge as key hurdle to reopening country Democratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers MORE (D-Conn.), who is taking the lead for Democrats along with Manchin, a pro-gun Democrat, said the politics of gun control has shifted and that Congress should go further than Manchin-Toomey.

“The broad experience of American gun violence since 2013 would tell you that Manchin-Toomey isn’t enough,” Murphy said Wednesday afternoon.

Schumer and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor Pelosi, Democrats using coronavirus to push for big tax cuts for blue state residents US watchdog vows 'aggressive' oversight after intel official fired MORE (D-Calif.) meanwhile, are pressing Republicans to vote on H.R. 8, a bill with broader requirements for background checks than the 2013 Manchin-Toomey proposal.

That has provoked the ire of McConnell, who has declared the House bill a non-starter.

Schumer on Monday said any plan offered by Trump to respond to recent mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas — as well as other places around the country — must strengthen federally mandated background checks for firearms purposes in a meaningful way.

“Background checks are the base from which we must do everything. In our view it’s paramount to pass the House bill as part of any gun safety package because it would sew up the most egregious loopholes that allow criminals, the adjudicated mentally ill [and] spousal abusers to get guns,” he said.

The tone from Senate Democrats is significantly tougher than the actions the caucus took last year, when a majority of Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to advance a Senate homeland security appropriations bill that included $1.6 billion in funding for the border wall.

That funding turned out to be a bigger number than Pelosi could accept after Democrats captured control of the House in November.

Senate Democrats also appeared to put the burden on Pelosi to battle the administration earlier this year when a majority of them voted for an emergency disaster relief bill that fell short of what House Democrats wanted.

Pelosi told colleagues at the time that she had a deal with Senate Democrats to hold out for a more liberal bill and felt blindsided by her allies on the other side of the Capitol.

Now, with Trump’s approval rating slipping, Senate Democrats are getting tougher.

Democrats are pushing Republicans hard on adding language to the annual defense appropriations bill to block Trump from redirecting military funding to pay for the border wall.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus Senator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy Democratic lawmakers demand government stop deporting unaccompanied children MORE (D-Ill.) said Democrats want an agreement with Trump now on safeguarding military and educational funding from additional raids to pay for the border wall.

“To take up to $5 billion out of the Labor, Health and Human Services appropriation at the expense of education and health programs to build this almighty wall is unacceptable,” he said.