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Schumer: Caucus Controls Its Own Destiny

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Sen. Charles Schumer, shown at a press event Friday to discuss the extension of tax cuts, said the new, smaller Democratic majority in the Senate will better coordinate its efforts on policy, legislative action and public communications.

Shakeups in the Senate Democratic leadership structure have raised questions about who will wield the power next year over a diminished and bruised caucus. But newly installed Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Charles Schumer said the answer is simple: all 53 of them.

“The caucus is going to be the decision-maker,” the New York Senator said in an interview Friday, tamping down talk that his new role has enhanced his own clout or made him the heir to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Three weeks ago, Reid surprised his caucus, including fellow leaders, by picking Schumer — who already serves as his No. 3 deputy — to oversee a massive reworking of the way the caucus coordinates public relations, policy and floor operations. Part of that means merging the Democratic Policy Committee, which primarily issues legislative papers, and Reid’s communications “war room.”

That led some Democrats to believe Reid had ceded a lot of his own power to Schumer, who is known for maximizing his influence wherever he gets a foothold and whose ambition for the leader job is well-known.

But Schumer said his new job, along with that of new DPC Vice Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), would be to marshal the resources of the caucus, not to dominate it.

“I am not going to make the policy or do all the press or do all the politics. But our job is to coordinate it all, and make sure it comes together,” he said.

He added, “Sometimes around here we have not been unified. Our policy, our politics and our press are running on separate tracks, and as a result, all three are weaker. They should be unified.”

One senior Senate Democratic aide said the new post could cut both ways for Schumer. While it enhances his Member-to-Member relationships, his performance in the job could make or break his chances of succeeding Reid.

“It’s not that he has more power,” said the aide. “He’s got more responsibility.”

Still, even rank-and-file Democrats remain confused about how the newly configured DPC will work — and just how much power Schumer will have.

Asked last week who would be the ultimate decision-maker on what bills come to the floor, Sen. Mark Warner tightened and pursed his lips. The Virginia Democrat only nodded when asked whether his silence meant he simply didn’t know.

Sen. Mark Begich, whom Reid recently asked to take over the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, said the DPC’s structure is “still evolving.” But the Alaska Democrat seemed to indicate Reid’s power would be weakened by the new entity. 

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