Photo credit: (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

As most Americans slept and most Yalies reveled in weekend festivities, Chuck Schumer secured his future as the next Democratic majority leader. With a barrage of phone calls early on Friday morning, Senator Schumer (D-NY) lined up a formidable array of supporters that quashed any chance Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) had of ascending to the senate’s most coveted spot. Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) discretely notified Senator Schumer of his decision to retire from the senate in 2016 late on Thursday night, giving his anointed successor valuable time to wrangle support.  Despite his third-ranking slot in the Democratic senate hierarchy, Schumer used his personal charm and close relationship with Senator Reid to turn a potential leadership race with Senator Durbin into a non-contest.

Senator Reid’s retirement may open the way to greater compromise and progress in the badly polarized D.C. political climate. While Senator Reid was a tremendous fighter and indispensable in securing the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the much-needed 2008 stimulus package, he rarely missed an opportunity to hammer his enemies. At various times, he compared Republicans to “greased pigs,” referred to Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as the “worst senate leader ever,” and even chided President Bush for having such a fat dog. This rhetoric did very little to secure mutual trust and understanding with his Republican adversaries. During the past half decade, Congress has failed to pass reasonable budgets, avoid painful sequester cuts, or maintain even the most superficial veneer of responsibility. New leadership offers an opportunity to set the reset button on the relationship with Senate Republicans, and could bring compromise on key issues facing the senate.

At various times, he compared Republicans to “greased pigs,” referred to Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as the “worst senate leader ever,” and even chided President Bush for having such a fat dog.

Senator Schumer is a shrewd strategist and is well liked within the Democratic caucus. While an old Washington quip states that, “the most dangerous place in a room is between Chuck Schumer and a microphone,” Schumer combines his love of media attention with fierce wit and self-deprecating humor. Last week he introduced President Obama’s nominee for attorney general, Loretta Lynch, by observing that she “had earned a reputation for keeping her head down and avoiding the spotlight.” Then he added “just like me,” to much laughter.

Schumer is also serious about getting things done. He worked closely with four Republican Senators to craft an immigration bill that could win bipartisan support in the Senate. The bill strengthened American business, made the border more secure, and provided badly needed rights to the millions of undocumented immigrants currently forced into the shadows. He has also been a powerful consumer advocate, securing support for bills protecting credit card users from hidden fees and keeping carcinogens out of children’s toys. While his success in winning Republican support in some areas does not suddenly mean Washington will be swept up in a wave of change, Senator Schumer’s rise offers hope that, at least on some issues, logic and laughter will prevail over grudges and grandstanding.

 

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