For the second time in four years, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has expanded the role of one of his closest allies and the caucus’s most ambitious Members — Sen. Charles Schumer.
Reid announced Monday he was giving Schumer, the current No. 3 lieutenant and Conference vice chairman, more control over legislative and communications strategy — a move that dramatically increases the power of a man who has long sought to replace Reid when, or if, the Nevada Democrat steps down.
But the move isn’t just about expanding the New York Democrat’s reach. Reid was also responding to the concerns of rank-and-file Members who have been demanding that he run things differently — and more aggressively — next year.
“What we’re seeing in the House with the Democratic leadership race is similar to what we’re seeing in the Senate,” one Senate Democratic aide said. “Reid, just like [outgoing Speaker Nancy] Pelosi, has the votes to remain Majority Leader. That being said, there is wide discontent among more junior Members of the caucus. More senior Members, especially those who are chairmen of committees, enjoy Reid’s hands-off style. It’s to their benefit. But the younger folks who have had to fight campaigns and come from different schools of messaging and tactics see a real need for change.”
Reid has been dealing with junior Members demanding changes to Senate rules for months; they have also agitated over the past year for the more robust messaging operation. Members of the 2006 and 2008 classes huddled Monday afternoon to plot strategy on how to push changes in Senate rules, including ways to overhaul the filibuster.
Sen. Benjamin Cardin, who was elected in 2006, noted that the coalition of junior Members wields influence because of their size — and because many, including himself, face re-election in 2012.
“I think we have brought an energy to the caucus that’s healthy,” the Maryland Democrat said. Cardin said he has taken a lead role in discussing ways to change rules and procedures within the Democratic caucus.
“You’re going to see more recommendations from us coming,” he said. “There’s a desire to be more effective in some of the things we’re doing. That’s not a criticism of what we’re currently doing, but saying that times have changed and we need to change with them.”
The junior Democratic Members are moving quickly to build support for their efforts. Sen. Chris Coons (Del.) told reporters hours before he was sworn in Monday that he had already been approached by fellow Senators about filibuster reform.