Top Democrats released their new agenda Monday at a retreat in Berryville, Virginia
The party has been in a period of soul-searching since the November election losses
Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to retake the majority in the House
Democratic leaders gathered Monday in small town America to declare they’re the party of rural and blue-collar workers, competing for the same voters that helped thrust President Donald Trump into the White House.
A mix of 10 senators and representatives took to a podium in a picturesque park here under the blistering sun as an attempt to portray a united Democratic Party, one that can appeal to both its progressive wing and the moderates who were drawn to Trump’s populist message last year.
“The fact that we’re all standing here today sends a powerful statement: Democrats are unified,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
They made the 80-minute drive from Washington, DC to the town of Berryville, Virginia, with a population of about 4,100, according to the 2010 census. “Let me pay it a high compliment: It looks like parts of New York state,” Schumer said, to laughs.
The plan – “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future” – is a three-pronged approach that focuses on improving wages, lowering costs of everyday expenses and boosting job-training opportunities.
It’s a messaging and policy agenda that will be heard on campaign trails across the country ahead of next year’s midterm elections and beyond. The first three policy proposals, announced Monday, focus on fighting corporate mergers, lowering prescription drug prices and creating jobs for 10 million Americans.
“This is one step that Democrats are offering to take back our government,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, to cheers. “It’s a darn good step.”
The list of lawmakers who spoke Monday – each held the microphone for several minutes in the hour-long event – represented a mix of the constituents Democrats are fighting to hold onto, from farmers in Minnesota to blue-collar workers in the northeast.
“”The zip codes may be different, but the issues are largely the same,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who represents Brooklyn and Queens.
The members at the event included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.
Local politics, too, were in play at the event. Berryville is located in the congressional district represented by Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock – a target seat that Democrats hope to flip in their favor next year. It’s also located in a county that Trump won, though he lost the commonwealth of Virginia.
A few voters at the event carried “Dump Comstock” signs, while others carried signs attacking Warner.
A couple others – who were tied with local and national Republican groups – were seen carrying Papa John’s pizza boxes to poke fun at the new Democratic slogan (Papa John’s slogan is “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza.”)
Critics have also pointed out that the new slogan sounds similar to the House Republican messaging campaign last year, called “A Better Way.”
A spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee sent out an email blast to reporters, ripping into the Democratic strategy to target Comstock’s district and calling the new agenda “stale.”
“Democrats fail to connect with millions of middle class Americans because they simply don’t understand them,” Jesse Hunt wrote in the email.
Following their party’s disastrous presidential loss in November, Democrats have been in a period of soul-searching as they seek a new message and cohesive identity in the Trump era.
A new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows a majority – 52% of Americans – sees the Democratic Party as a party that stands against Trump, while only 37% consider it a party that stands for something.
“Democrats have too often hesitated from directly and unflinchingly taking on the misguided policies that got us here — so much so that too many Americans don’t know what we stand for,” Schumer said Monday. “Not after today.”
Trump referenced Schumer on Twitter Monday morning, writing: “After 1 year of investigation with Zero evidence being found, Chuck Schumer just stated that ‘Democrats should blame ourselves, not Russia.’”
Schumer and Pelosi, respectively, wrote op-eds in The New York Times and The Washington Post Monday morning trumpeting the new agenda, which Pelosi said “represents a renewed Democratic commitment to the hard-working men and women across the United States who have been left out and left behind for too long.”
As for the first rollout of specific policies, Democrats want to create an independent agency designed to prevent prescription drug price gouging and allow Medicare to negotiate with drug manufacturers for lower prices. The plan would also require drug companies to submit justification to the government for major price hikes 30 days before any would-be increases takes effect.
In terms of everyday costs, Democrats mentioned consolidations in the airline, cable, internet, phone, beer, food and eyeglass industries as especially problematic. They will propose changes in antitrust laws to prevent big corporate mergers that could result in increased prices and a “consumer competition advocate” that would help crack down an anti-competitive behavior.
The agenda also pledges to create jobs for 10 million Americans by doubling federal support for registered apprenticeship programs, giving tax credits to companies that train new workers and expand partnerships between businesses and schools.
Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to retake the majority in the House. Historic trends of a president’s party losing seats in the midterm elections of the president’s first term coupled with Trump’s low approval rating is giving Democrats hope of hitting that magic number.
The Senate, however, is a more daunting challenge. While Democrats only need a net gain of three seats, they’re also defending 25 seats, 10 of which are in states that Trump won.
Missing from the “Better Deal” agenda is policy centered around health care, an issue for which Schumer said he feels Democrats have made their stance clear during the debate on President Barack Obama’s signature domestic legislation, the Affordable Care Act, also more commonly known as Obamacare.
CNN’s Eugene Scott contributed to this report.