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Republicans have found a new foil in their war with the White House over the deficit and spending: Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer.
Targeting the New York lawmaker has been relatively easy, Republicans say, since President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have maintained relatively low profiles of late.
“If Chuck Schumer is going to put himself out there as the voice of Senate Democrats ... it’s our responsibility to point out when he’s out of step with his own caucus, the American people and reality,” a GOP leadership aide said.
Republicans have seized on media accounts that Schumer — who also runs the Democratic Policy and Communications Center — coached his Democratic colleagues during a conference call on how to attack Republicans in the spending fight.
“Today, the Democrats got their marching orders on how to depict us,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday.
“Now we have to wonder who even runs the Senate,” House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) added. “Do we have a de facto leader in the Senate in Chuck Schumer, who wants to engineer a political game? ... He’s spending more time on politics than he is on policy. He’s putting politics before people.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) charged that Schumer has engaged in an overtly political effort to “depict Republicans in the House as not serious and depict every spending cut as nonsensical ... [when] that is the thing that is not serious.”
The GOP attacks kicked off in earnest last week after Schumer told MSNBC that a deal was close — and then subsequently attacked the tea party for scuttling it.
Cantor publicly derided Schumer’s comments as “completely far-fetched,” while aides privately suggested that Schumer was hoping for a government shutdown for political gain.
Schumer has been “really destructive to these talks,” one House GOP aide said. “I believe that Sen. Schumer believes there are political benefits for Democrats in causing a government shutdown and is doing his best to cause one. I don’t think that’s shared by the rest of his caucus.”
A Senate Democratic leadership aide said the charges are ridiculous: “Give me a break. When it comes to avoiding a shutdown, Speaker Boehner knows his problem is with the tea party, not Democrats. ... It’s obvious by now that the Speaker should either get a grip on his Members or abandon them and cut a deal.”
Democrats have suggested that the tea party movement has kept Republican leaders from coming to the negotiating table on a long-term spending plan. Republicans are attacking Schumer, they say, to distract attention away from that reality.