WASHINGTON – (AP) – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was eating Peking duck at a Chinese restaurant with family and friends on Manhattan’s west side Saturday night when an aide called with urgent news: Democrats would win the Nevada Senate seat and theirs retain majority.
The restaurant erupted in cheers as the news flashed across a TV screen, and a group celebrating a birthday sent him a piece of cake.
But Schumer didn’t stay to celebrate. He was soon rushing across town for an impromptu late-night press conference in the lobby of a building near his office.
“I’ll be the majority leader again,” he announced almost dizzily into the cameras.
The 2022 election is “a victory and a vindication for the Democrats,” he said.
It was particularly a vindication for the often underestimated Schumer, who has won a string of unexpected legislature victories this year as he navigated the narrow 50-50 majority of Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris scoring a tie vote. But the midterm elections brought the biggest surprise of all when his party successfully defended seats despite historical trends and low approval ratings for President Joe Biden. The result: another two years of close Senate control.
Even a narrow majority has huge ramifications for Biden and his party, as the Senate confirms executive branch nominees and judges, including for the Supreme Court should there be vacancies in the next two years. Democrats will be able to decide which bills to bring to the Senate, while Republicans — who may control the House of Representatives — politically thrash the president ahead of the 2024 election.
“Listen, I’ve been at the forefront of every one of those campaigns,” Schumer said in an interview Monday in his Capitol office, with a fire roaring behind him and his excitement still visible. He said he believes Democrats won because they had better candidates and because of their legislative accomplishments – which allowed the government to negotiate some prescription drug costs, investments to fight climate change and a bipartisan effort to tighten , who is allowed to own guns, among other measures that were passed over the summer.
“It was always my plan,” Schumer said. “Get things done and focus on them and don’t get distracted.”
Eventually, he said, voters rejected anti-Democratic efforts by Republicans, who backed former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overthrow the last election.
“We stood on the precipice of autocracy that was gnawing at our democracy,” said Schumer, noting that the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot on the Capitol broke with several hearings and pictures of Trump’s supporters over the summer Attention drawn to the attack The police get a lot of airtime. “American voters said, ‘I don’t like this. I’m going to reject it.’ And the American people saved us.”
In his own post-mortem election Monday, Republican leader Mitch McConnell saw things differently, describing the Democrats’ narrow win in the Senate and still undevoted control of the House of Representatives as affirmation of a “narrowly divided nation.” Addressing Georgia voters directly who will decide a runoff between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican nominee Herschel Walker in December, McConnell claimed that the failure of Democratic policies has led to high inflation.
If Warnock wins, Democrats will have a 51-49 majority. And Schumer will have protected each of his incumbents in the election – an amazing feat.
Elected to represent New York in the House in 1980 and then in the Senate in 1998, Schumer has long been known for his political acumen — he was responsible for the victorious Senate Democrat efforts in 2006 and 2008 — and as a master communicator. But for his peers, the midterm election results are also a validation of his abilities as a legislative leader. While he has been criticized by Republicans and some progressive groups for dropping some items on the Democrats’ wish list, the party has had electoral successes and lawmakers say it gave them renewed impetus over the summer.
“It’s Chuck Schumer’s year,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who led bipartisan gun legislation negotiations. The victories were “founded by a series of victories that ultimately motivated both swing and grassroots voters,” Murphy said, specifically the sweeping health, climate and economic package Democrats passed after Schumer had a one-on-one with the moderate Democrats had negotiated Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who single-handedly killed an earlier version of the legislation.
Murphy said Schumer’s style is “completely unique and very well suited to a 50-50 Senate” because he knows when to micromanage and when to back down. Murphy said he spoke to Schumer several times a day while he was negotiating the gun bill, but he still let Murphy take the lead.
Regarding bipartisan negotiations, “leaders need to be pretty confident that this can develop,” said Virginia Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat who attended the talks. At the same time, Warner said, “Anyone who underestimates Chuck’s focus and attention to detail does so at their own peril.”
Schumer boasts about his communication skills and notes that he has every Democratic senator on speed dial on his famous clamshell phone. And he knew many of their numbers by heart, he said.
“Every member calls me,” he said. “They don’t go through staff. You can speak to me direct, no email.”
Brian Fallon, a former adviser to Schumer who is now executive director of Demand Justice, a liberal advocacy group that supports the court’s expansion, said Schumer has “proven himself over the last two years” in terms of legislative maneuvering. At no time was that more evident than this summer, Fallon said, when Schumer unexpectedly announced the deal with Manchin on the comprehensive package of bills, surprising angry Republicans.
“He’s had his own kind of Harry Reid moment the past few months,” Fallon said, referring to the late Nevada senator and Majority Leader, who was known as one of the Senate’s toughest dealmakers, before passing the torch to Schumer . Reid died last year.
The next two years won’t be easy, even if Warnock wins and gives the Democrats a crucial extra seat. Several Democratic incumbents are up for re-election in 2024, and Republicans still have a good chance of winning the House majority, making negotiations more difficult for Schumer.
“So where do we go from here?” Schumer asked. The Democratic leader said he intends to sit down with McConnell and try to find places to come to terms, even though the two men have traditionally had a frosty relationship.
“I’m going to try really hard to do as much as I can,” Schumer said, echoing what he’d been saying since taking the top job two years ago. “We have to focus on getting things done. That means we have to make compromises.”
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