WASHINGTON — Elizabeth Warren opened her arms to working with Donald Trump on populist issues Thursday afternoon in a talk to the AFL-CIO, using her first public remarks since Democrats lost the presidency to reach out to his white, disaffected working-class voters.
Warren’s remarks represent a watershed moment for the Democratic Party as its leaders try to puzzle out how they will deal with a Trump presidency: Even as she denounced Trump’s “bigotry,’’ her message was that the progressive wing of the party is in line with Trump on many of the very issues that make the Republican elites uneasy with their next president.
She outlined common ground on regulating banks, protecting Social Security, opposing trade deals, college affordability, and rebuilding infrastructure.
“He spoke to the very real sense of millions of Americans that their government and their economy has abandoned them,” Warren said. “And he promised to rebuild our economy for working people.”
Warren’s entreaty has a limit.
“Donald Trump ran a campaign that started with racial attacks and then rode the escalator down,” she said. “He encouraged a toxic stew of hatred and fear. We will stand up to bigotry. There is no compromise here.”
As the Democratic Party faces a reckoning after Tuesday’s election results, Warren is positioning herself to reshape a party that, in the eyes of some analysts, no longer needs to bow down to the more moderate, pro-business Clinton wing. She’s also taking an early stab at shaping the Trump agenda, signaling areas that are popular to his base where she’s willing to work with him.
Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist who fired up liberal voters during his ultimately unsuccessful run for the nomination, echoed the same themes, offering to work with Trump on some issues while warning that his more extreme comments about banning Muslims or mass deportations are not acceptable.
“People have a right to be angry,” Sanders said in an interview with CNN. “There are a lot of areas where I think we can work together if he is sincere about what he said in the campaign.”
It’s an extraordinary idea — that Trump might reach over his own party and work with the progressive wing of the Democratic party to get some of his agenda done. It’s also an idea roundly rejected by Washington prognosticators, who say that such an alliance would be impossible.
Trump has shown little interest in Warren and sparred with her frequently during the campaign, calling her “Pocahontas” to make fun of her claims of Native American heritage. Jason Miller, a Trump spokesman, did not reply to an e-mail asking whether Trump would work with Warren.
Both Warren and Sanders face risks blazing a path toward Trump cooperation. The liberals that make up much of their base marched in the streets of cities across the country this week to protest Trump’s victory. The protests included massive spur-of-the-moment demonstrations in Boston, New York, Chicago, and St. Paul.
In a private portion of her remarks at AFL-CIO headquarters, just a few blocks from the White House, Warren even voiced irritation at her own party. During a brief question-and-answer session before the formal live streamed remarks, one union leader said she feared that her members were uninspired to work hard this year because they’re seeing Democrats “rolling over” on issues the union memberssupport, like single-payer health care.
“I have been so frustrated for so long with Democrats,” Warren said in response. “There are times, there are times when I think, the Republicans, when they’re wrong, they fight harder. For Democrats, we’re like the reverse.”
She added, speaking so loudly that she was audible from behind closed doors: “I want to see my representative, and my senator, out there fighting even if they end up losing. I’d rather see them fighting.”
During her speech, Warren tried to draw a line between Trump and the leaders of his party. Both Trump and Warren have battled Republican leaders in their own ways at various times.
“Donald Trump won the presidency under a Republican flag,” Warren said. “But Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and the Republicans in Congress — and their way of doing business — were rejected, rejected by their own primary voters, rejected during the campaign, and rejected in Tuesday’s election.”
Warren was scheduled to give the speech at the AFL-CIO for a while, though her initial draft was much different. The Massachusetts senator, like much of the rest of the country, had expected Clinton to win — and planned for that.
Instead, she gave an address that was hastily put together in the past few days and included elements that could have been in a stump speech had she decided to run for president this year. ( Indeed, she could still include those elements again, should she decide to challenge Trump in 2020)
“Washington dithers and spins and does the backstroke in an ocean of money while the American Dream moves further and further out of reach for too many families,” Warren said. “If we have learned nothing else from the past two years of electioneering, we should hear the message loud and clear that the American people want Washington to change.”
Giving her first post-election remarks at the country’s largest federation of unions turned out to be fortuitous, since wooing those members back into the fold would be a key step to rebuilding the Democratic Party.
Polling in general was wildly unreliable this year, but some surveys taken after voters exited the polls tended to show that Trump got more union support than Mitt Romney did four years ago. That could have been the difference for Clinton in Michigan and Wisconsin, where she narrowly lost.
But the unions are sensitive about being blamed for Clinton’s losing. The AFL-CIO did its own survey, which showed Clinton was stronger among union members. Even that poll revealed that Trump did a better job than Romney attracting support from unions.
“Donald Trump was able to communicate with our members in a way that no other Republican has in modern history,” said Josh Goldstein, a spokesman for the federation. “Democrats, and the Democratic platform, were the right policies for working people. But they have to be expressed in a transformational way.”
Warren has long been able to connect with unions. Their alliance goes back to her 2012 election — and she reminded the leaders on Wednesday of their help.
“The House of labor made it happen,” she said.
During Thursday’s event, Warren embraced AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka multiple times.
“There is no one, and I mean no one, I would rather have standing with us than her,” Trumka said.
Annie Linskey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @annielinskey.