Feb. 10, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Senators Mount Quiet Race to the Top

Those plums come in the form of committee assignments, waivers on uncomfortable votes, provisions slipped into bills, campaign contributions and just understanding what Members can and can’t do.

Reid operates on the theory that “the more power you give away, the more power you get,” the former aide said. Indeed, Reid, who became Minority Leader in 2005 and Majority Leader in 2007, gave up the chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee to then-Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) in 2001 in order to secure the lawmaker’s historic party switch, which handed control of the chamber to Democrats. In 2007, Reid vacated his seat on the Appropriations panel to make room for Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

Durbin has clearly followed Reid’s example in giving up the chairmanship of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs to Specter when he bolted to the Democratic ranks last April. And Durbin, like Schumer, has also been involved in trying to help Members score the best committee assignments possible, sources said.

After hearing from members of the 2006 class of Democrats that they were itching for subcommittee gavels, Schumer urged the rest of the leadership and the caucus to enforce rules that limit the number of subcommittee chairmanships that senior Senators could hold. As a result, several Senators including Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) received chairmanships in 2009.

Beyond committee assignments that give Members a perch from which to claim credit for their endeavors, being able to accommodate everything from mundane requests like not voting on Fridays to getting out of a controversial vote on a politically sensitive issue is a key barometer that Senators use in judging whom they want to lead them.

Though both men sport decidedly liberal credentials, Schumer gets higher marks from many Democrats because he is seen as more understanding of all Members’ — liberals and centrists alike — political fears.

Privately, Senate Democrats said the most significant disadvantage for Durbin is that he is viewed as an ideologue who presses for party unity. That has been a particular problem among centrists, who bristled last year when Durbin urged Democrats to stay aligned on procedural votes after Democrats secured their 60th, filibuster-proof vote in the chamber.

At the time, moderate Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who is retiring at the end of this Congress, greeted that suggestion with scorn. “Most Senators vote their conscience and they do what they think is right. They didn't come here to be told what to do by somebody else,” he said then.

On the other hand, Schumer appears to have a good relationship with moderates, even if that relationship is “almost clinical,” according to one former aide to a centrist Senate Democrat.

“Moderates know that if they can make the political case [to Schumer], he will make the deal,” explained the former aide, who acknowledged that, “The criteria that make you a good Majority Leader 80 percent of the time puts you at odds with moderates”

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