Songs help Schumer keep the Democrats to­gether

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his wall,” Schumer said, re­count­ing the week’s vis­its to McCain’s of­fice. “I had a lump in my throat sev­eral times.”

Those as­sur­ances, whether they pushed McCain to vote against the bill or not, say a great deal about Schumer, who has held the Democrats to­gether even as he has promised to work with Repub­li­cans. Six months in as leader, Schumer has melded the blus­tery ne­go­ti­at­ing strate­gies of his pre­de­ces­sor, Harry Reid of Ne­vada, with the cagey tac­tics of Sen. Mitch McCon­nell of Ken­tucky, the ma­jor­ity leader, who honed the art of ob­struc­tion as a weapon.

Now that Democrats have de­feated a ma­jor plank of the Repub­li­can agenda, the ques­tion is whether that suc­cess will drive Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble — and whether Schumer can keep Democrats who are up for elec­tion in red states in line and safe from de­feat next year.

While Repub­li­cans have spent the last six months en­meshed in in­ter­nal squab­bling, Schumer has largely made sure Democrats stood on the side­lines. McCon­nell cut out Democrats on Day 1 of this Congress, us­ing every method to by­pass them on dereg­u­la­tion votes, Cab­i­net con­fir­ma­tions, a tax over­haul and health care pol­icy.

“That has had a big im­pact,” said Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, D-Calif. “If you leave out a whole po­lit­i­cal party,” she said, “and then you chas­ten them for not help­ing, well, that unites that party.”

Yet Democrats give Schumer — song-belt­ing, fre­quently bad­ger­ing, end­lessly fren­zied — credit for his tire­less at­ten­tion to sen­a­tors from every fac­tion, and for quiet out­reach to Repub­li­cans who he thinks could be part­ners down the line.

He has worked care­fully — far more than Reid, many Democrats agreed — to be al­most re­lent­lessly in­clu­sive, talk­ing with them at all hours of the day, over every man­ner of Chi­nese noo­dle, on even tiny sub­jects, to make them feel in­cluded in strat­egy. Re­cently, as he sat in a den­tist’s chair wait­ing for a root canal, he di­aled up Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal of Con­necti­cut to talk about a com­ing ju­di­ciary hear­ing con­cern­ing Don­ald Trump Jr.

“I think he makes it look eas­ier than it is,” Blu­men­thal said about Schumer.

Trump’s elec­tion stunned him. Schumer’s orig­i­nal plan af­ter the elec­tion was to find a way to work with his fel­low New Yorker on is­sues where he thought they might align, such as an in­fra­struc­ture bill.

“I take what’s given me,” Schumer, 66, said in a (shoe­less) in­ter­view in his Capi­tol Hill of­fice right off the Se­nate floor, one fes­tooned with por­traits of his idols (Eleanor and Franklin Roo­sevelt, Lyn­don B. John­son), maps of New York and mildly goofy pho­tos with other Democrats.

Fleet­ing dreams of us­ing Trump’s pop­ulism to tri­an­gu­late against a Repub­li­can­con­trolled Congress dis­solved, he said, when Trump in­stead de­cided to move right away to re­peal­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act. So Schumer turned to an op­po­si­tion agenda, do­ing ev­ery­thing within his lim­ited pow­ers to slow, block or ob­vi­ate Trump’s agenda.

“We’re in the mi­nor­ity, so we’re not mak­ing pol­icy,” Schumer said. “We have to know when to dance and when to fight. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has made it harder to dance.”

For the fight, Schumer held to­gether his dis­parate group of red state mod­er­ates, left-wing re­sis­tance fight- ers, hard-core pol­icy wonks and ev­ery­thing in be­tween, form­ing a par­ti­san blast wall against Repub­li­can ef­forts to re­peal the health care law, in part via mad­den­ing de­lays of ba­sic Se­nate busi­ness.

Schumer’s schmooz­ing abil­i­ties have been im­por­tant. “He knows who I am,” said Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., who is among the party’s mod­er­ates in a state Trump won hand­ily and who has largely op­posed Trump’s agenda.

“I tell him when I think he is mov­ing too far to the left,” Manchin said, as when Schumer pushed to fil­i­buster to block Trump’s nom­i­na­tion of Judge Neil Gor­such to the Supreme Court. “There were no con­ver­sa­tions with Harry.”

It was not an ar­ti­cle of faith that Schumer could do what he has done. With sev­eral Democrats up for re-elec­tion next year in states Trump won, both Repub­li­cans and Democrats as­sumed that those vul­ner­a­ble law­mak­ers would be tempted to try to help un­ravel the health care law, vote for large tax cuts and the like.

“He makes it clear to peo­ple that the op­po­si­tion is about Med­i­caid cuts for the mid­dle class and work­ing class, not just the poor,” Blu­men­thal said, ex­plain­ing the ra­tio­nale for fight­ing the health care law re­peal. “It’s about opi­oid treat­ments, not just re­pro­duc­tive rights.”

Schumer’s cen­tral weapon is pro­ce­dural tricks to slow Trump’s nom­i­nees, some­thing that in­fu­ri­ates McCon­nell. “I don’t like it, and we are not go­ing to do it as a prac­tice,” Schumer said, but “when you’re choos­ing a Cab­i­net nom­i­nee, es­pe­cially a con­tro­ver­sial one, it makes sense.”

All told, he said, his re­la­tion­ship with McCon­nell is an im­prove­ment over McCon­nell’s with Reid. Schumer has re­peat­edly told McCon­nell that Democrats would ease up on their ob­struc­tion once health care was be­hind them.

“I’ve known Chuck a long time, and he rep­re­sents his state and his cau­cus well,” McCon­nell said in an email be­fore the health care vote. “And while New York and Ken­tucky are very dif­fer­ent places, we re­spect and work well with each other — even if we are try­ing to achieve very dif­fer­ent goals. The Se­nate as an in­sti­tu­tion func­tions through co­op­er­a­tion and con­stant con­ver­sa­tions with the other side of the aisle.”

Schumer com­mit­ted one slight to­ward McCon­nell that baf­fled even his clos­est al­lies, vot­ing against let­ting McCon­nell’s wife, Elaine Chao, be­come sec­re­tary of trans­porta­tion.

“She would not com­mit to spend­ing money on trans­porta­tion,” Schumer said, even though most other Democrats gave her the nod. The move frosted McCon­nell, sev­eral Repub­li­cans said.

Schumer has watched Repub­li­cans strug­gle with mov­ing from, in Speaker Paul Ryan’s words, an “op­po­si­tion party to a propo­si­tion party” — a ma­jor rea­son that Schumer and other Democrats re­cently rolled out a new eco­nomic mes­sage and pol­icy plat­form for Se­nate and House Democrats.

“He has rec­og­nized Democrats need a pos­i­tive agenda,” said Jim Man­ley, a for­mer aide to Reid. “And has be­gun putting that face be­fore his cau­cus and the pub­lic.”

Schumer seems to ap­proach this with his usual blithe­some man­ner, singing show tunes and the Shirelles as he races from phone call to meet­ing, slid­ing away from po­ten­tial pests, a cell­phone pressed to his face.

“I love every sin­gle mem­ber of my cau­cus,” he said. Oddly, this is likely true.

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