Se­nate ma­jor­ity or not, Dems turn to hard-charg­ing Schumer

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - STATE NEWS - By Erica Werner

The Demo­cratic Party’s fault lines have been over­shad­owed by the near civil war within the GOP. But Democrats will face their own di­vi­sions af­ter Elec­tion Day, and the bat­tle over the party’s heart, soul and fu­ture may well play out on the floor of the Se­nate, un­der di­rec­tion of a new Demo­cratic leader, Chuck Schumer.

It’s a chal­lenge the canny, 65-year-old New Yorker has been eyeing for years. When Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Harry Reid, DNev., an­nounced his re­tire­ment, Schumer man­aged to leapfrog Reid’s No. 2, Dick Durbin of Illi­nois, and sew up the nec­es­sary sup­port from fel­low Democrats to claim the job.

Tues­day’s elec­tion will de­ter­mine whether Schumer leads a Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate, or a mi­nor­ity if Repub­li­cans man­age to de­fend their 54-46 seat ad­van­tage. If the GOP does keep Se­nate con­trol, it will be de­spite Schumer’s con­stant ma­neu­ver­ing and more than $8 mil­lion in cam­paign money he raised or do­nated to Democrats.

And whether it’s Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton or Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump who is elected pres­i­dent, Schumer will have a fel­low New Yorker in the White House. With Clin­ton, they could re­sume the part­ner­ship they forged while serv­ing to­gether as sen­a­tors.

Re­gard­less of those out­comes it may be the dy­nam­ics within Schumer’s own Demo­cratic cau­cus that oc­cupy him the most.

The party’s resur­gent lib­eral wing, ex­em­pli­fied by Sens. El­iz­a­beth War­ren of Mas­sachusetts and Bernie San­ders of Vermont, will be ready for a fight. But a group of Demo­cratic sen­a­tors rep­re­sent­ing red states, in­clud­ing In­di­ana, West Vir­ginia, Mon­tana and North Dakota, will be up for re-elec­tion in 2018, po­ten­tially ex­ert­ing pres­sure from the op­po­site di­rec­tion.

All that could leave Schumer in the po­si­tion of key deal­maker in what’s likely to be a new era of di­vided govern­ment in Wash­ing­ton.

“I tell our cau­cus we need a strong pro­gres­sive wing and we need a strong mod­er­ate wing to suc­ceed,” Schumer said in an in­ter­view.

“We have a moral im­per­a­tive to work to­gether and get things done,” he said. “I have told my cau­cus I don’t want to sim­ply put bills on the floor that our side votes for and their side votes against, or their side votes for and our side votes against, and we ac­com­plish noth­ing.”

Such sen­ti­ments are likely to be wel­comed by law­mak­ers in both par­ties frus­trated with grid­lock, which has been ex­ac­er­bated by frosty re­la­tions be­tween Reid and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky.

In their most re­cent leg­isla­tive ses­sion, law­mak­ers spent weeks tied in knots over a straight­for­ward spend­ing bill to keep the lights on in govern­ment past Elec­tion Day.

That’s noth­ing com­pared to what awaits next year, when the Se­nate will have to con­tend with mon­u­men­tal tasks in­clud­ing con­firm­ing a Supreme Court nom­i­nee and rais­ing the govern­ment’s bor­row­ing limit.

Schumer can count sup­port­ers in both par­ties who say his prac­ti­cal ten­den­cies will serve him well nav­i­gat­ing those is­sues and work­ing with McCon­nell.

“They’re both prag­ma­tists. They’re both par­ti­san, but they re­spect the Se­nate as an in­sti­tu­tion,” said Sen. La­mar Alexan­der, R-Tenn.

Talk­a­tive and pub­lic­ity prone, for­ever work­ing his flip phone, Schumer is al­most as well-known for his abil­ity to at­tract me­dia at­ten­tion as he is for his stew­ard­ship of home-state in­ter­ests.

As head of a com­mit­tee in­volved with in­au­gu­ral plan­ning, Schumer used a solo limo ride with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on his sec­ond in­au­gu­ra­tion to bend the pres­i­dent’s ear about projects that needed do­ing in New York State, ac­cord­ing to some­one who heard the anec­dote. He is known for set­ting up his aides on dates and mar­riages, and sing­ing the joys of par­ent­hood.

Yet Schumer is also seen as overly self-serv­ing at times, with some ac­cus­ing him of putting his own po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests first. There’s been grous­ing from Democrats this year that Schumer spent mil­lions on his own re-elec­tion cam­paign in New York, in­clud­ing to film an ad with a cow, even though he faces mostly to­ken op­po­si­tion and the money could have gone to sup­port Se­nate Demo­cratic can­di­date Rep. Pa­trick Mur­phy in Florida.

“The les­son to politi­cians is if the Demo­cratic Party tells you they got your back, they don’t,” said John Mor­gan, a Demo­cratic donor in Florida who blames Schumer for Mur­phy’s likely loss to in­cum­bent GOP Sen. Marco Ru­bio.

Democrats have de­fended their de­ci­sion-mak­ing on Florida, point­ing to the ex­pense of run­ning ads in the state com­pared to po­ten­tial op­por­tu­ni­ties else­where.

Schumer was a lead player in ne­go­ti­at­ing the bi­par­ti­san com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion bill that passed the Se­nate in 2013 but stalled in the House. Dur­ing that process he talked oc­ca­sion­ally to Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who was work­ing be­hind the scenes on the is­sue.


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