In Thursday’s paper, we explore the influence the presidential election is having on the extremely fluid battle for control of the U.S. Senate. In the piece, Republicans – echoing the Romney campaign’s (perhaps tactical) expressions of optimism – are bullish, while Democratic leaders raise alarm bells.
Among them is New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the architect of the current Senate majority.
For the record, Schumer states that Barack Obama will absolutely, positively, no doubt about it, be reelected president. And with that stipulation out of the way, he painted a Democratic nightmare scenario of what would happen in a Romney administration were his party to lose the Senate.
“The reason I’m working so hard to keep control of the Democratic Senate is because so much is at stake,” Schumer, said, explaining that he had spent much of the last month raising money and campaigning with Democratic incumbents and challengers, talking with “five or six of them” a day. In Schumer’s nightmare scenario of Romney winning the election and Democrats losing the chamber, he described the “dismantling” of regulations and the Voting Rights Act, the erosion of the National Labor Relations Board and severe cuts to education and transit funding. But first on his list was the danger of Romney filling seats on the Supreme Court.
“If we have another conservative Supreme Court justice, I think it changes America dramatically for a generation,” Schumer said, both for the existing regulatory structure and social issues. “I don’t think they will ever get Roe v Wade overturned in a legislative body. Even if it’s a Republican controlled one. But the Supreme Court could well do it. For the hard right, the gold mine is controlling the Supreme Court, and a Republican majority Senate brings them much further along to doing that.”
He added, “If we have another conservative Supreme Court justice, I think it changes America dramatically for a generation. I believe the hard right really believes that that is there number one way to rule America and move the clock back to the 1920s on economic regulatory fronts, which is what they seem to want to do. And if you have one more conservative Supreme Court justice, it will change America not for four years but for a generation in terms of empowering the people like Mitt Romney, the very wealthy, who say I don’t want your government to have its hands in my pocket. It will basically dismantle the regulatory structure we have.”
If Obama were reelected and Democrats succeeded in keeping control of the chamber, he envisioned more progressive judges on the D.C. circuit courts.
“You would get a good energy bill. They would be bipartisan but with a progressive lean to them. There would be [a] chance to undue Citizens United, because I think a lot of the Republicans wanted to actually put disclosure on Citizens United. I think a lot of Republicans are throwing up their hands because they see it as a mixed blessing, where a lot of these super PACs have elected hard-right nominees who are hard to get elected.”
“If we keep the Senate,” he added, “there are two groups of Republicans left in the Senate today, there is only one moderate, [Maine Sen.] Susan Collins — God bless her soul. There are what I call mainstream Republicans and the hard right. They are about 50, 50. McConnell has a foot in both, as a good leader should. But if we keep the Senate and keep it by a decent margin, let’s say we keep it by a decent margin, let’s say 53, the mainstream conservatives will be empowered to work with us much more closely because the embrace of the tea party by Mitt Romney… the tea party didn’t do them much good.”
And if Romney won but the Democrats protected the Senate, Schumer describe the chamber being a check on his power.
“If you have the majority you are able to set the agenda,” he said. “You have the committee chairs and can set the committee hearings to be a check on the administration. And the way it works it’s just a lean in your direction. The difference between 51-49, and 49-51 is greater than two percent.”
If Obama were to win but Republicans were to take the Senate and keep the House, he envisioned a hard four years for the president.
“What they would do is be able to force Obama to compromise with them much more on their terms, if he wanted to get anything done,” Schumer said. “If they win the Senate their attitude toward compromising will be much much more constrained because they will think their strategy worked and they just needed more time. If it’s a Republican Senate, the choice will be continued paralysis or movement in their direction, and that is the great dilemma and that’s why I’m working so hard, trying to prevent that choice.”
Schumer has been furiously fundraising and campaigning along with Harry Reid, the majority leader many of Senate Democrats think Schumer hopes to succeed. He said the intensified effort over the last month did not come from Obama’s dipping poll numbers.
“The urgency,” he said, “comes from the substantive changes that would occur if we lost.”