Bernie Sanders front and centre as Democrats regroup

Barack Obama questions election strategy and urges party to work at grass-roots level

Democrats, still reeling from Donald Trump’s shock win and heavy losses in last week’s US elections, took the first steps towards uniting the party to create a viable opposition in the Republican-led Congress.

In the Senate, Chuck Schumer of New York was, as expected, elected the party's minority leader and heads a team that includes the two most prominent senators on the progressive wing of the party, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the surprisingly strong challenger to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, in senior roles.

Mr Sanders, an independent who votes with Democrats, will represent the party as its ranking member on the Senate’s budget committee, a key post that will put him in the front line fighting against sweeping Republican plans to change the tax system and strip away Wall Street regulations.

He was appointed to the new position of “chair of outreach”, which aims to bridge the gap between the party leadership and key constituencies energised by his Democratic presidential primary campaign.


Ms Warren, already in the party’s leadership and a popular figure among progressives on the party’s left flank, will take the newly created title of vice-chair.

The party named West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat who had been a recent critic of the party's leadership, to one of the roles in an expanded leadership team of 10.

Lesbian senator

Mr Manchin's state handed Mr Trump his second biggest-margin state victory and the Democrat challenged outgoing Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid for denouncing the Republican's victory.

Growing the ideological, geographic and gender balance, the party named Wisconsin senator Tammy Baldwin to a top position among Senate Democrats, making her the first lesbian senator to hold a senior role.

The loss of Rust Belt states, long-time Democratic strongholds, to Mr Trump has stirred internal party tensions between the liberal Warren-Sanders faction and party centrists who believe that Democrats have forgotten their blue-collar roots and that their policies are no longer appealing to middle-class Americans.

On Monday, President Barack Obama questioned the party's election campaign, appearing to criticise Mrs Clinton's strategy of choosing not to campaign in certain states. The party's presidential candidate did not appear in Wisconsin, which voted Republican for the first time since 1984.

Leadership shake-up

“Democrats have to be clear on the given population distribution across the country,” said Mr Obama in his first post-election news conference. “We have to compete everywhere. We have to show up everywhere. We have to work at a grass-roots level, something that’s been a running thread in my career.”

Mr Schumer said the new roles “shows we can unite the disparate factions of our party and country”.

House Democrats are in greater disarray where dissent has emerged from members of Congress representing the Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan lost to Mr Trump who feel the party needs a leadership shake-up.

Ohio congressman Tim Ryan, from the strongly pro-Trump Rust Belt area, is considering running against Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi. He has urged the party to return to the economic basics and not lean to the liberal wing of the party following last week's losses.

The party has delayed its House leadership elections until November 30th, after the Thanksgiving break, to allow members to regroup.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, a liberal Democrat, met Mr Trump at Trump Tower on Wednesday and later told reporters that he "let him know that so many New Yorkers are fearful" of the future policies of his administration.

On the Republican side, president-elect Donald Trump continued to consider key cabinet positions in his administration. A spokesman for Mr Trump said the transition team managing his takeover of power said he was "not going to rush" to propose potential cabinet selections.

The lobbying efforts for senior roles continued on Wednesday with Czech president Milos Zeman calling on Mr Trump to appoint his former wife, Ivana, to become the new US ambassador to Prague.

Mr Zeman said that “the US cannot sent a better ambassador to Prague” than Mr Trump’s first wife, the mother to his three oldest children who is of Czech descent.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent