Senator Chuck Schumer of New York is the new Democratic
minority leader in the U.S. senate, and he is no doubt eager to
put his own stamp on his conduct on that institution, especially
as he succeeds the polarizing, mean-spirited Harry Reid who
contentiously held that same post before him.
Mr. Schumer’s liberal party is also coming off a presidential race
it had expected to win. It had also anticipated picking up more
than the two senate seats it did gain, and a net gain of more U.S.
house seats. Currently, it appears that the Republicans will have
52 seats in the new senate in January, and the Democrats will have
48 seats. The latter number includes two independents, Angus
King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont who caucus with
the liberal party. It also includes two very centrist senators,
Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West
Virginia. Senator Heitkamp is rumored to be a possible cabinet
member in the new Trump administration, and should that
happen, her replacement in conservative North Dakota would
likely be a Republican.
Republicans also have advantage of Vice President Mike Pence
serving as the presiding office of the U.S. senate, with the power
to break any tie votes.
Mr. Schumer has let it be known, as have several of his liberal
colleagues, that the Democrats in the senate intend to be very
aggressive in blocking the initiatives and appointments of
President Trump. Since 60 senate votes are required for
bringing many laws to the floor, this could be an effective tool
for the liberal opposition.
But while Harry Reid was known for his hyper-partisanship
and highhandedness when he led the senate, Chuck Schumer is
known for his willingness to make deals. Moreover, the critical
prospect hanging over Mr. Schumer’s political head is what
might happen in the mid-term elections of 2018 when 25 of his
Democratic colleagues are up for re-election and only 8 GOP
senate seats are up. Many of those liberal incumbents are from
states that voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, and if the Democratic
opposition is perceived negatively by the voters because they
appear to be stalemating the government and blocking economic
recovery, the 2018 election could be a replay of 2014 when the
conservative party picked up 9 seats.
Historically, the first mid-term elections in a new administration
do not go well. Incumbent presidents and their parties lose seats
in the Congress. Presidents Kennedy, Reagan, George W. Bush
and Obama faced economic downturns. The short but spectacular
political career of Donald Trump, however, has seemed to defy all
recent precedents. The fact that his economic policies are designed
to stimulate economic growth and higher employment could break
this pattern of cyclical recessions in the short term and create a
positive outlook in 2018. That might suggest political disaster for
Democratic senate election hopes that year, especially if the liberal
party and Mr. Schumer were perceived as standing in the way of
Making Mr. Schumer’s task even more complicated is the internal
party reaction to the losses of 2016. Already there is pressure from
the more leftist wing of the Democratic party, led by Bernie
Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, to move the Democrats further to
to the left, possibly under a new and radical party leader. This is
almost precisely what occurred in Great Britain recently when the
liberal Labour Party was defeated by the Conservative Party in
national elections. Abandoning the center left, Labour chose a
distinctly radical leader who made the radical wing of the party
feel good, but immediately sent the Labour Party poll numbers
into a nosedive (where they remain today).
Chuck Schumer is a very bright man, and an agile politician.
Although an aging and (many feel) discredited Nancy Pelosi was
re-elected as the minority leader in the U.S. house, the true
leadership of the national Democratic Party now passes to him,
at least until the next presidential election. With the
unconventional and unpredictable Donald Trump in the White
House, and Republican majorities in both house of Congress, the
senior senator from New York faces the biggest challenge and
most difficult choices of his political career.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.