Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., spoke of the importance of the American democracy and diversity in what he called “a challenging and tumultuous time.”
Schumer spoke at the inauguration of Donald Trump shortly before the president elect was set to take the oath of office.
“We face threats, foreign and domestic. In such times, faith in our government, our institutions, and even our country can erode,” Schumer said, striking a somber tone. “Despite these challenges, I stand here confident in this great country for one reason: You, the American people.”
Following one of the most divisive elections in history, Schumer said that despite differences “we are all exceptional in our commonly held yet fierce devotion to our country, and in our willingness to sacrifice our time, energy, and even our lives to making it a more perfect union.”
“Whatever our race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, whether we are immigrant or native-born, whether we live with disabilities or do not, in wealth or in poverty,” Schumer said. “Today we celebrate one of democracy's core attributes, the peaceful transfer of power. And every day we stand up for core democratic principles enshrined in the constitution: The rule of law. Equal protection for all under law. The freedom of speech, press, religion. The things that make America America.”
Schumer invoked the words of Sullivan Ballou, a Union Army officer during the Civil War. He read an excerpt from a letter Ballou wrote to his wife just before the war began.
“If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready,” Ballou wrote. “I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter.”
He died on the battlefield a week later.
Earlier Friday, Schumer said he was “ready for the fight” he expects with Trump and Republicans.
“I mean, it’s a tremendous responsibility. This president ran an unconventional campaign to say the least,” Schumer told CNN. “He pleased many people but upset many more, probably, and they're looking to us to hold up that banner and we will. Not just for its own sake. Not to, quote, ‘see him fail,’ but to hold to the values that so many Americans hold dear.”
The minority leader and his party are set to clash with Republicans on the future of outgoing President Barack Obama’s signature policy achievement, the Affordable Care Act. Republicans have sworn to repeal and replace the health care law, but Schumer said they should expect no help from Democrats. Both chambers of Congress have taken preliminary procedural moves to undo the law, but Republicans have yet to unite around a concrete replacement plan.
Schumer hasn’t ruled out working with Trump when it suits the interests of both parties, however. Following the election in November, Schumer said he could work with the new president on trade, infrastructure and tax reform.
“Surprisingly, on certain issues, candidate Trump voiced very progressive and populist opinions,” Schumer said. “I hope on the promises he's made to blue collar America on trade, on carried interest, on infrastructure, that he'll stick with them and work with us, even if it means breaking with the Republicans who have always opposed these things.”