Schumer Enjoys Sherpa Role

Posted June 3, 2009 at 6:38pm

Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), once the Senate Democrats’ top campaign strategist, has turned his attention to just one candidate this week, touting Supreme Court hopeful Sonia Sotomayor as she moves through the confirmation process.

“She’s impressive when you read about her history and her credentials; she’s even more impressive when you sit down and talk to her face to face,— Schumer told reporters earlier this week as the nominee made the rounds on Capitol Hill. “I’m convinced that [as] she talks to my colleagues, both Democrat and Republican, [she] is going to so impress them.—

Schumer was tapped by President Barack Obama last week to be Sotomayor’s emissary on Capitol Hill, and so far he’s fulfilled the responsibility with all the enthusiasm of a spirited campaigner. He took to the airwaves immediately after the Supreme Court pick was announced, praising Sotomayor’s credentials and warning Republicans that if they opposed the historic nomination, they would do so “at their peril.—

For Republicans, Schumer’s leading role seems a natural if somewhat irritating casting as GOP Senators strive to carve out their role in the confirmation process.

“He’s a political guy. It rubs us the wrong way when you say Republicans oppose her at their peril. It politicizes the process and makes it about identity politics,— a Republican Judiciary Committee aide said.

Schumer, of course, had a different take: “It’s a fun role and something that because I think so highly of her I’m happy and so glad to do,— he said during a brief interview.

“I’ve talked to her several times. We try to strategize with the White House on how to deal with things. It’s almost universal, Democrats and Republicans, they love her,— the New Yorker glowed. “She’s got a very strong, down-to-earth personality, and that’s what I tell her, Just be yourself.’—

An aide to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said, “It’s helpful to have a guide for these visits, and Sen. Leahy believes that Sen. Schumer is well-suited to be a mentor to her.—

Chief Justice John Roberts was led through the halls of Congress by former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) before his 2005 confirmation hearing.

Justice Samuel Alito, an appeals court judge in New Jersey before he joined the Supreme Court, was introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R) during his 2006 confirmation hearing, although Lautenberg eventually voted against the nominee.

Sotomayor enjoys the distinction of having in Schumer a member of the president’s party, as well as a subcommittee chairman on the Judiciary Committee. She retreated to Schumer’s private office for lunch Tuesday along with New York’s junior Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand (D), in between meetings with Judiciary members.

And she will return to Schumer’s office today to go over the week’s progress and lay out strategy for next week’s lineup of meetings with more Senators.

Schumer’s work in preparation for her yet-to-be-scheduled confirmation hearing includes reaching across the aisle.

“Colleagues listen and you know I know her from New York, and if need be, I can put her in touch with Republicans, I will,— Schumer said.

Schumer has been dismissive of critics who take Sotomayor to task for saying that a Latina would make “better— judicial decisions than a white male. Ever the campaign operative, Schumer tried turning the controversial comments into a positive for the Supreme Court nominee.

“On every question we asked, including the question about Latina woman, she just knocked it out of the park,— Schumer said following his Tuesday lunch with Sotomayor. “I think, as my colleagues hear her answers directly — and she’ll see over half of them this week — it’s going to allay any of their concerns.—

As Schumer remained one step behind Sotomayor on the Capitol Hill stump this week, he’s been careful to show deference to Leahy, who is preparing to chair his first Supreme Court confirmation hearing. Schumer demurred on questions about when hearings will be scheduled or how negotiations are coming along with the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).

“One of the roles of the chairman of the Judiciary Committee is to make those decisions and to make those calls,— a Democratic committee aide said. “Members of the committee know that.—

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, said the panel will follow its well-established rules of seniority when it comes time for Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings.

“He’s the home-state Senator. He’d be expected to introduce her, and we’re glad to have him in that role,— Durbin said. “But when it comes to the confirmation hearing, we’ll follow seniority pretty closely.—