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Schumer 2.0: How a surprise ruling on same-sex marriage explains the Senate leader


“On that issue alone, I have to give him credit for playing it non-politically,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who repeatedly clashed with Schumer after his attempts to defeat in 2020. “He listened closely to our analysis, and I didn’t want to play politics with that.

After two cycles at the top of the Democrats’ campaign arm, then a role as the party’s chief messenger that pushed Republicans to reject bills tested by the polls, Schumer is taking flight as party leader – tempering his pugnacity with a deliberative instinct shaped by the management of the longest in US history. Senate 50-50. While Republicans see his patient approach on gay marriage and guns as exceptions to the rule, the past two years have made it harder to argue that Schumer’s singular goal is making Republicans look bad.

That’s not to say Schumer won’t cast a partisan fanatic. But as he leads his 50-member midterm caucus, his record as majority leader is taking shape after four years leading a Democratic minority whose main goal was to outsmart the former president. Donald Trump.

Over the past 20 months, Schumer has scored party-line victories on coronavirus aid and climate, taxes and health care with no room for error. Bipartisan laws inked under his leadership include Schumer’s own microchip legislation and the first major gun safety law in a generation, as well as a sweeping infrastructure deal, an effort that has plagued several previous presidents. .

“Whenever I can do something in a bipartisan way, I do it. The second best thing is if you can’t do it bipartisanly and you just have to [use] The Democratic votes to keep doing it,” Schumer said in an interview this week. “If the Republicans are intransigent and there is no chance of getting there, I believe in accountability. But it’s my third choice, not my first.

Schumer hasn’t totally abandoned the concept of the Senate floor as a campaign studio: On Thursday, he will take a vote on the doomed DISCLOSE, a favorite Democrats proposal to make political donations more transparent. He also staged a failed vote on abortion rights earlier this year and forced a vote on changing Senate rules to pass changes to election regulations — a failed effort that Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) rejected.

But on two high-profile social issues, access to guns and marriage equality, Schumer consciously strayed from the more partisan and aggressive approach. Baldwin said in an interview that she was actually pushing to go as fast as possible on same-sex marriage, but her role in vote-whipping informed her that it was “far too important to risk losing.”

“Senator Schumer trusted my assessment of our Republican supporters’ position on this legislation. That is: if we are forced to vote before the midterms, we may not have the same number of supporters as after,” Baldwin said. “It was always about doing something, not losing.”

For Baldwin and other Democrats, Schumer’s move to codify same-sex marriage protections continued his trend of generally reserving defeated votes for bills he says have no chance of becoming law. Still, Republicans say they’ve pondered Schumer’s decision for days, trying to guess whether it’s part of a trend or a unique moment.

A GOP senator, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said he would never cross paths with Baldwin, and she deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the delay. Others say the episode highlights the complexities Schumer faces in one of Washington’s toughest jobs.

“I can’t try to read his mind. I took it as a positive sign. I took it this way: he actually wants to get a bipartisan bill rather than using the issue as a message. Which we’ve clearly done before,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is generally supportive of same-sex marriage but has not pledged to support the legislation.

Schumer has always prided himself on his constant contact with his members. He repeatedly consulted Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) when he decided not to force a vote on background checks on gun buyers after the devastating school shooting in Uvalde, Aus. Texas, instead allowing a bipartisan group to work its will.

That explains another aspect of a less belligerent incarnation of Schumer: he always consults with the senators closest to an issue to inform his strategy, whether it’s infrastructure, guns or marriage. After all, he’s the guy who was part of the immigration Gang of Eight – he knows how bipartisan groups work from experience.

Baldwin and Sinema, along with Republican partners like Collins, told him unequivocally that they were confident they could break a filibuster on same-sex marriage after the election, but maybe not before.

“He really let us do the work, the same way we had to do with the community [gun] security bill,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (RN.C.), who has worked on both same-sex marriage legislation and the gun bill. “Despite all the narrative buzzing in the bubble, it never occurred to us that it was going to be a jam.”

On the Democratic side, however, there was no consensus initially. Some progressives believed Democrats should force the vote before the election, viewing it as a political victory if it progressed and a political victory if it failed. After all, there’s no guarantee the measure will pass after the midterms, although Baldwin says she believes it.

“We debated it back and forth,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

Both Collins and Sinema said the issue transcended politics for Schumer as well. As Sinema said, “This question is personal to Senator Schumer. We all have friends and family members who fear their loving marriage is in jeopardy. »

Long-time Schumer watchers have noticed a broader shift in attitude that bypasses any issues, allowing him to focus more on the longer game. While he still pays close attention to Senate races, that has become less important as he leads the chamber 50-50 and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) leads the campaign arm of the caucus.

Schumer the political animal, in other words, is honing his teeth a little less these days.

“One of Chuck’s biggest problems, and I hope we’ve alleviated some of it, is that he’s always been a DSCC player. And really, that doesn’t help with politics. , when you’re on the political side,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), DSCC’s chairman in 2016. “He gave Peters a lot more space than he ever gave me. . , let’s put it this way.

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