Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Warren11 senators urge House to pass .5T package before infrastructure bill Senate Democrats seeking information from SPACs, questioning 'misaligned incentives' UN secretary-general blasts space tourism MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Manchin: Biden told moderates to pitch price tag for reconciliation bill Biden employs flurry of meetings to unite warring factions MORE (I-Vt.) say they are willing to work with President-elect Trump, but they are also preparing for war.
In the aftermath of Trump’s stunning victory, all eyes are turning toward how the two biggest personalities on the left pick up the pieces and navigate a fundamentally remade Washington.
For now, both are at least making sounds of compromise toward Trump. But it’s clear that sentiment is heavily layered with skepticism, and a vow to fight hard where they differ.
“The way that most progressives feel is similar to what Sanders and Warren have said,” said Neil Sroka, spokesperson for the liberal group Democracy for America. “There is a great deal of skepticism.”
Liberals note that the populist message that Trump rode to the White House bears many similarities to their own claims that the nation’s wealthiest and most powerful have benefited over working class Americans. Trump criticized Wall Street on the stump, and his skepticism towards broad trade deals matches up with similar sentiments on the left.
Trump has also suggested he wants to protect entitlement programs, raise the minimum wage, and expand support for family leave — all liberal priorities.
But there are far more questions than answers about what Washington will look like under President TrumpDonald TrumpUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Heller won't say if Biden won election MORE, and liberals like Warren and Sanders are more likely preparing for the worst than hoping for the best.
“I don’t trust Donald Trump farther than I can throw him, and that isn’t very far,” said Sroka.
In the immediate aftermath of the election, both Sanders and Warren made statements that could be read as olive branches to the incoming Trump administration.
Both noted that Trump did indeed win the election. They also acknowledged that he had clearly tapped into a strong vein of anger and discontent among the American public towards the Washington establishment. Both said they were willing to work with him if their interests were ever to overlap.
“To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him,” said Sanders in a statement.
“When President-Elect Trump wants to take on these issues, when his goal is to increase the economic security of middle class families, then count me in,” said Warren in a speech to labor leaders Thursday. “I will put aside our differences and I will work with him to accomplish that goal.”
But both of those nods towards compromise were surrounded by vows to fight hard if Trump pursued many of his top-shelf priorities, such as a mass deportation of illegal immigrants and the building of a border wall.
In doing so, Warren and Sanders are positioning themselves as liberal watchdogs in Congress who will not hesitate to hold Trump's feet to the fire.
In the same statement, Sanders said he would fiercely oppose Trump if he pursues “racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies.” And in her speech, Warren decried Trump’s campaign as creating a “toxic stew of hatred and fear.”
Effectively, the message from liberals in Congress has been that if Trump wants to pursue policies they believe will aid working Americans, they won’t resist out of purely partisan motives. But they’re not counting on it, particularly since Republicans control both chambers of Congress.
In the early going, there is little evidence that Trump will be actively seeking liberal support for his policies.
For example, the website for Trump’s transition team makes clear that he intends to “dismantle” the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, placing him squarely in opposition to liberals like Warren that want to strengthen the law.
And Trump’s team has identified the repeal of ObamaCare as one of the first priorities of the new Congress, a clear break with Democrats of all stripes.
With that in mind, liberals like Warren and Sanders are preparing themselves to serve as spirited opposition to Trump and Republicans, and also to any moderate Democrats that may feel compelled to compromise on some policy goals.
Republicans control just 52 seats in the incoming Senate, meaning they will need to convince at least eight Democrats to support any bill they want to pass.
Several Democrats up for reelection in 2018 hail from red states and there could be pressure on some lawmakers to work with a GOP-led Senate to find common ground.
With Warren and Sanders preparing to be vocal from the left, there's a clear message of warning to other Democrats.
“Any sort of work with Donald Trump…is going to be very dicey political territory,” said Sroka.
“The very last thing that any Democrat needs to be doing is aiding and abetting Donald Trump’s stated agenda of bigotry, hate and division.”