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Friction Strains Senate War Room

File Photo
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over responsibility for his caucus’s public relations to Sen. Charles Schumer earlier this year.

The Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Center faces fresh scrutiny following the departure of the communication war room’s most senior aide to Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The unusual marriage of the Nevada Democrat’s communications staff with that of Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer — charged with the running the DPCC — has from the beginning fueled speculation about Reid’s hold on power and whether his New York colleague would use his expanded responsibilities to solidify his influence over the caucus. Last week’s decision by Reid’s chief spokesman, Jon Summers, to quit after just five months on the job has helped resurrect such questions, although the factions involved dispute the connection.

Two Democratic sources with knowledge of the inner workings of the DPCC said Summers is leaving in part out of frustration, arguing that while the organization is populated with Reid staff and the Majority Leader participates in decision-making, Schumer and his staff ultimately determine strategy and exert more influence.

“It’s hard to be a Reid island in a sea of Schumer,” one source said.

Summers flatly dismissed that contention. More campaign strategist than Capitol Hill operative by nature, he is headed to a political consulting firm with ties to Reid.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for me, and it’s the place I’ve thought for quite some time I’d like to work for when I decide to leave the Senate,” said Summers, who will become a vice president with GMMB. Summers played an integral role on Reid’s difficult but ultimately successful 2010 re-election bid before taking up residence in the DPCC.

Another Senate Democratic leadership aide refuted suggestions that Reid and Schumer staffers have been engaged in a daily struggle for control of DPCC strategy and operations, noting that while the Conference vice chairman runs the caucus message center, nothing happens without the Majority Leader’s sign-off. The structure of the DPCC is set to remain the same when Adam Jentleson, Summers’ deputy in the war room, takes over as Reid’s chief spokesman when Summers officially departs in July.

“There is a mutual respect and sense of cooperation that has made the DPCC more successful and productive than people might have thought given how unorthodox it is,” the Democratic leadership aide said Monday.

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