On Inauguration Day, though, the senator looked pleased by the president’s pronouncement of an assertive and almost Schumeresque progressive agenda. The man who publicly took the oath of office Jan. 21 had learned many of the hard political lessons that Schumer already knew in January 2009, when Obama was sworn in for the first time.
But Schumer, too, has taken a new direction. At a time when Republicans are feeling battered and need a path back to electoral viability, Schumer has embraced Obama’s old bipartisan religion in a move to realize the president’s second-term agenda, and in the process attain so-far-elusive legislative accomplishments to solidify his power and status in the Senate.
In the past, the media-hungry Schumer might have simply elbowed his way onto center stage, a move common enough that his colleagues came to dub it “getting Schumered.” This time, the president is focusing on bringing along the public and giving Schumer room to work the Senate. Other Democrats are signing on, and key Republicans are eager to work with him.
Schumer is not one to let the opportunity slip away. On Monday, he led a bipartisan group of top lawmakers during a jampacked news conference, unveiling a framework for immigration reform. That night, he was instrumental in securing bipartisan support for a $60 billion relief package for victims of Hurricane Sandy. On Tuesday, he appeared with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to tout bipartisan support for the immigration package. On Wednesday, the duo had a return engagement at a Politico Playbook breakfast, where McCain said Schumer was assuming the role of the late senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts as the Democratic lion able to bridge the partisan divide. Later that day, Schumer said at a gun-control hearing that “as we meet here today, I’m having productive conversations with colleagues on both sides of the aisle” to introduce new legislation.
In his long ascent to power, Schumer has distinguished himself as one of the most aggressive, politically calculating and effectively partisan Democrats in the country. As chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) from 2005 to 2009, he fought to build, guard and expand the Democratic majority that he aspires to, and in many ways already does, lead. The 2010 reelection of Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), whom Schumer calls his “foxhole buddy,” temporarily took the brass ring of majority leader off the table. But as this month has demonstrated, it hasn’t sapped his ambition.