Updated 4:36 p.m. | Some senators and aides may have barely awoken after a late-night budget vote-a-rama by the time not only had the chamber's minority leader announced his retirement, but the gears were turning toward a succession plan.
In announcing that he would retire at the end of the 114th Congress instead of seeking another term, Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could have set off a contested race for the top spot in a leadership hierarchy that's seen very little movement.
But by mid-afternoon, Reid had endorsed New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, no. 3 in the current hierarchy, as his chosen successor — and Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin's office made it clear that the Illinois senator would also back his colleague and former Capitol Hill roommate.
A source familiar with Schumer's plans told CQ Roll Call that not only is the New York Democrat in the race to be the next leader, he already has secured overwhelming support of members of the caucus.
Durbin, according to his spokesman, also has the support of Reid to seek another term as the party's whip.
Reid, who announced early Friday he won't seek re-election in 2016, gave no indication anything was up when he exited the Capitol in the wee hours following Thursday night's marathon session for the budget vote-a-rama.
But during the budget session, Reid, for a time or two, appeared to be looking on as his three longtime lieutenants —Durbin, Schumer and Patty Murray of Washington — worked through the process of wrangling over amendments.
Schumer hinted at his ambitions in his own statement Friday afternoon: “I thank Harry Reid for his friendship, counsel, and steadfast leadership of our caucus over the last ten years, and I look forward to continuing to work right alongside him for the remainder of this Congress. I am honored and humbled to have the support of so many of my colleagues and look forward to our Senate Democratic Caucus continuing to fight for the middle class.”
Schumer could waltz into the job, as he has long been seen as the favorite to succeed Reid. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who some liberal groups were pushing to run, won't, according to her office. That leaves Murray, who has not announced her plans.
In the months since the New Year's Day accident, Reid has taken to bringing his three lieutenants to his weekly press availability outside the Senate chamber, and as the Democratic caucus looks forward, any one of them could easily have become the next Democratic leader.
All are skilled operators. As the whip, Durbin would have been officially next in line, but both Schumer and Murray are Reid confidants who have led the DSCC and taken on a variety of other significant roles.
Schumer has spearheaded the caucus-messaging operations and Murray has, among other things, led the caucus in past budget negotiations. That's something she highlighted in her statement regarding Reid's retirement.
"I owe so much to Harry for everything he has done, and for everything he continues to do, to help me fight for my constituents and for families across the country," Murray said. "He has asked me to take on some tough jobs over the years, but I have always appreciated the trust he placed in me, the work he did to make sure I had the space I needed to get the job done, and the knowledge that, no matter what, Harry had my back and was going to fight for what was right."
“Harry is one of the best human beings I've ever met. His character and fundamental decency are at the core of why he’s been such a successful and beloved leader," Schumer said in his own statement. "He’s so respected by our caucus for his strength, his legislative acumen, his honesty and his determination. He has left a major mark on this body, this country, and on so many who have met him, gotten to know him, and love him.”
Durbin played up Reid's pugilistic tendencies and highlighted their personal relationship in a statement Friday morning, "Harry Reid is one of the ablest leaders of the Senate Democratic caucus in modern history—he has served our country and the people of Nevada with a tenacity and passion rarely seen. The former boxer from Searchlight never forgot his roots and never went down without a fight. He and Landra have been dear friends for more than 30 years, and it has been an honor to be part of his leadership team for the past decade.
"The Senate will miss his leadership and I will miss his friendship, but with the 114th congress only just underway, Leader Reid and Senate Democrats have a lot of work to do on behalf of working families in this country. I will be by his side every day in that fight."
When CQ Roll Call sat down with Reid at the end of 2013, a question about the possibility that Murray could become the next leader led him to quip, "If I drop dead? I don’t know."
And on March 18, he told two CQ Roll Call reporters interviewing him about one of his favorite topics — his longstanding effort to block the development of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain — that "nothing's changed" regarding his 2016 plans.
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