As the mastermind behind his party’s takeover of the Senate in 2006, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has seen his stock skyrocket in recent months among his Democratic colleagues.
But even more importantly, Schumer has won himself critical influence with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and Senators in both parties say the brazen New Yorker’s stamp can be witnessed on most every move the new majority makes these days.
“In my opinion, his influence is supreme,” offered Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), one of Schumer’s top Republican rivals. “He’s everywhere.”
Now in his second tour as the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee after wrenching six seats from the GOP in 2006, Schumer also has won himself an official place at Reid’s elite leadership table as the Caucus vice chairman.
Reid created that No. 3 slot specifically for Schumer late last year — an overt tip of the hat to the man who delivered him control of the Senate in November. Reid also gave Schumer the gavel at the obscure Joint Economic Committee, an added bonus to the seat Reid previously handed Schumer on the powerful Finance Committee as a reward for agreeing to take on the DSCC the first time.
“There’s been significant growth in [Schumer’s] strength,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). “From his encouragement of qualified people to run, raising money at an unprecedented rate and being able to tell the Democratic story so forcefully and with believability, his personal esteem has continued to grow.
“And as a consequence, his leadership quality burst forward and he and Harry Reid struck an alliance. I would call it a perfect merger.”
“He’s definitely a player,” added a senior Democratic Senate aide. “From where he was on Election Day 2004 to where he is now, he’s had a net gain of influence more than any other Member of the Democratic Caucus.”
An Odd Couple
Schumer’s committee and leadership positions by themselves could have given him a direct line to Reid’s ear. But Democrats almost universally say Schumer’s relationship with Reid solidified long before the successful 2006 election — dating back to when Schumer first agreed to take on the grueling job of top political fundraiser and strategist at the DSCC in late 2004.
“We worked hand-in-glove,” Reid said. “No one thought we could do it except him and me.”
“We went through the experience of the 2006 election,” Schumer added. “It was kind of like being in a foxhole together.”
Schumer has over the course of the past two and a half years eased into the role as the Democratic Caucus’ leading political adviser — helping to chart strategy and formulate policy that seeks to advance the new majority’s standing with the electorate.
Schumer’s not only seated at every leadership meeting with Reid, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Caucus Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.), but he and Reid are in near-constant contact, speaking by phone up to a dozen times a day.
“Let’s put it this way, on my speed dial I have my family, my top staff people, my two best friends and Harry Reid,” Schumer said.
“They are as close as close can be,” noted Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). “On politics, on fundraising, on any given policy, there’s no question Reid listens a great deal to what Schumer has to say. He’s not always going to do what he tells him, but Harry Reid appreciates what Chuck has to say.”
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