Senate Democrats have embraced their role as the loyal opposition to Donald Trump, with several using the chamber’s first post-election session to criticize the president-elect for fomenting divisions across the country.
Democrats have said that they are willing to work with Trump on areas of common ground. But Minority Leader Harry Reid used floor remarks on Tuesday to assail the real estate mogul, accusing him of sparking “a wave of hate crimes.”
“We have a responsibility to be the voice of millions of Americans sitting at home, afraid that they’re not welcome anymore in Donald Trump’s America,” said Reid, who is due to retire before Trump is sworn in.
The minority leader frequently took to the floor to criticize Trump in the run-up to the election.
Majority Whip John Cornyn said Reid’s rhetoric was not appropriate on the Senate floor, and expressed hope that the discussion would return to policy.
“This is the United States Senate for heaven’s sake,” the Texas Republican said.
Reid also called on Trump to step forward and take responsibility for statements he made on the campaign trail that are now stoking fear among many Americans.
“Rather than healing these wounds, Trump’s actions have deepened them,” Reid said.
Reid decried Trump’s appointment of Stephen Bannon as chief White House strategist and senior counselor, a position that does not require Senate confirmation. Bannon ran the conservative website Breitbart News, and Democrats have criticized him as someone who has supported white nationalist, anti-feminist and anti-Semitic views. Reid, himself, labeled Bannon a “white supremacist.”
“The first thing [Trump] should do is rescind his appointment of Steve Bannon,” Reid said. “Rescind it. Don’t do it.”
Earlier on Tuesday, four Democratic senators and a newly elected colleague stood next to a poster with “Fire Bannon” in large white letters, urging the president-elect to dismiss his new aide.
“We call on him to change course,” said Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, who was joined by Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, and Sen.-elect Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.
Van Hollen said Democrats are willing to work with the incoming Trump administration on economic issues, particularly on modernizing infrastructure. But he said if Trump attempts to “roll back the clock” on social justice issues, “we will fight them to the very end.”
Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse also joined on a call with reporters to criticize Trump for hiring lobbyists in his transition team after Trump pledged to “drain the swamp” and limit the influence of special interests.
While Congress does not have influence over the hirings, Sanders said he and Whitehouse want to ensure the American people are aware when Trump is reneging on some of his campaign promises.
Sanders vowed that “in area after area after area” he will be reminding people of what Trump said on the campaign trail.
“We are going to do everything possible to hold him accountable,” Sanders said.
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