Democrats emboldened by President Trump’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.
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 Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (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 will 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 Schatz (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 Biden ahead of Trump, 55 percent to 40 percent.
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 Yang led Trump in the Emerson poll of New Hampshire 54 percent to 46 percent.
The poll numbers are leaving Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (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 McConnell (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.
Sen. Patty Murray (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 Murphy (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 Pelosi (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 Durbin (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.