Schumer’s gamesmanship doesn’t always engender warm feelings, but it often gets results.
This month, a group of senators led by Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), both elected in 2008 while Schumer was head of the DSCC, spearheaded an effort to alleviate paralysis in the Senate by reforming the rules governing filibusters, the tactic that allows the minority to block consideration of legislation. According to a source with knowledge of the negotiations, Schumer, the chairman of the Rules Committee, told Merkley he’d support his reform if the Oregonian could find 51 votes, something Schumer and Reid doubted was possible. Merkley used Schumer’s support as a selling point but ultimately couldn’t find the votes.
Republicans, however, didn’t know that, and feared that Democrats would try to strip the minority of its power to filibuster. Schumer then agreed to join McCain in a bipartisan group opposing the bold overhaul in favor of a more modest reform. “Ultimately,” Merkley said, “what we did was go with something that was essentially a strategy of saying, ‘We should still try to do this in a bipartisan fashion.’ ”
McCain was grateful. “A lot of people don’t appreciate how important it was for us to get that done,” he said at the immigration news conference. “Chuck Schumer and I and others — and Dick Durbin — were involved in a bipartisan effort to avert that.”
Schumer’s greatest legislative achievement to date came as a congressman, when he wrote the assault weapons ban that passed as part of then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden’s 1994 crime bill. As he rose to the Senate, Schumer became a significantly less vocal champion of gun control, which came to be seen as political poison to Democrats. Aides to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) of New York, who has been a singular and consistent advocate of gun control, privately refer to Schumer’s backtracking as a clear example of Democratic cowardice.
Now that national tragedies and political willpower have made gun control politically palatable again, Schumer is back in the fray. And while he is involved in efforts to again ban assault weapons — considered a long shot by many — most of his energy is going into lining up support from National Rifle Association-approved senators, including Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republicans Mark Kirk of Illinois and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, to strengthen background checks, a more modest and promising approach.