Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. (center), accompanied by the Senate Democrats, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, Nov. 16, after being chosen Senate Minority Leader for the 115th Congress. From left are, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen, Mark Warner, D-Va., Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill., Schumer, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. (center), accompanied by the Senate Democrats, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, Nov. 16, after being chosen Senate Minority Leader for the 115th Congress. From left are, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen, Mark Warner, D-Va., Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill., Schumer, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Dems pick Chuck Schumer, Patty Murray to lead new Congress

By James Rowley


Senate Democrats named Charles Schumer, a media-savvy Brooklynite, to succeed Harry Reid, the combative ex-boxer from a hardscrabble Nevada mining town, to be their party’s leader as they prepare for Donald Trump’s presidency.

Senate Democrats held their leadership elections Wednesday. Aside from Schumer, Washington’s Patty Murray was selected as assistant leader. Dick Durbin of Illinois retains the minority whip post.

To the extent Democrats can find common ground with Trump, particularly on trade and infrastructure, Schumer may be much better equipped than Reid to cut deals with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the White House. Reid’s relationship with McConnell, who expects to retain his position, has become increasingly bitter, but the Republican leader predicted a more cooperative relationship with Schumer.

At the same time, Schumer, with his close ties to Wall Street, may be challenged by his party’s left flank, led by Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who waged a populist presidential campaign.

Schumer is a tireless networker who hangs out most weekday mornings in the Senate gym to talk with colleagues, particularly his Republican friends, to try to cut bipartisan deals. Schumer may spend more time talking than exercising, one Republican, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, has said.

The New York Democrat has worked with Cornyn, the Republican whip, to draft bipartisan legislation that would revamp federal criminal sentencing and overhaul patent law. The two pushed legislation Congress passed in September over President Barack Obama’s veto to allow the families of 9/11 terrorist attack victims to sue Saudi Arabia for civil damages. Schumer and Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions, an early Trump supporter, drafted legislation intended to curb currency manipulation by China.

Schumer’s deal-making skills will bring “tremendous value” to the Senate, said Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley. “He has a perpetual process of checking in with folks,” Merkley said in an interview. “If you’ve ever been around him, it’s one phone call after another.”

The next Senate Democratic leader has also earned the grudging respect of Republicans as a fierce partisan. “He can throw a punch,” South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, one of Schumer’s collaborators on bipartisan legislation, told reporters. “When it comes to politics, he knows how to play it. And he comes from New York” so “it can get kind of ugly,” Graham said.

“We’re going to get along fine,” McConnell said of Schumer the day after the general election, when Democrats picked up two seats. Republicans will hold a 52-48 Senate majority in the 115th Congress if they win a runoff race in Louisiana in December.

Schumer, too, has signaled a desire to seek common ground, when possible, with Republicans. “There is a yearning among people in both parties to get things done,” Schumer said in an interview with Bloomberg’s Steven Dennis before the election. “The party that’s seen as obstructionist is going to pay a price in 2018.”

An important consideration for Schumer’s leadership style is the math of the next congressional election. Democrats will be defending 25 of the 33 seats that are up for re-election that year, including two held by independents who caucus with the minority party. Many of the Democratic senators next up for re-election are from states carried by Trump, notably Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.

Schumer will have to balance the interests of red-state Democrats with the wing of the party led by Warren and Sanders. He has close ties to Wall Street, a major source of jobs in his hometown as well as campaign funds for his party. Wall Street “is part of his constituency, both the source of the funds he is able to bring in to the party” as well “as a relationship that has kind of contaminated him in the eyes of people like Sanders and Warren,” said Ross Baker, a Rutgers University political scientist who has studied the Senate up close as a temporary member of Reid’s leadership staff.

In 1999, Schumer championed the repeal that year of the Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression-era law that had separated investment banking from commercial banking. The repeal of Glass-Steagall has been blamed by some critics, including Warren, for helping fuel the excesses of Wall Street that led to the 2008 financial crisis.

Trump’s campaign promise to revive Glass-Steagall-type regulation may force Schumer to choose between one wing of his party and another. A sit-in by anti-Wall Street political activists this week in Schumer’s Senate offices highlighted the fissure in the party that he and other leaders will try to heal going into the 2018 election.

Sanders declined to comment on whether Schumer’s Wall Street ties would hamper his ability to lead Democrats. “The person to put that question to is Senator Schumer,” Sanders said on a conference call with reporters. But “for the future of the economy, it is absolutely necessary that we repeal Glass-Steagall.”

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