Long, Hot Schumer: Chuck On Court, Bombings Bush

article smith1 Long, Hot Schumer: Chuck On Court, Bombings BushWhen
four bombs went off in London on July 7, three in the Underground and one on a
bus, there was a bill ready in the U.S. Senate to quadruple federal funding for
security on public transportation. It’s called the Schumer Amendment.

The
bill’s author, Senator Charles Schumer, learned of the London bombings while
flipping through newspapers in his Brooklyn apartment that Thursday morning. He
thought, of course, of New York and the city’s subways. And the attack raised
one question: Why hasn’t it happened here?

“If
you would have asked people on 9/12, 2001, if we would have had [another]
attack by now … ,” Mr. Schumer said,
allowing the sentence to trail off, its ending understood.

“It’s
almost metaphysical or epistemological. Five bombers could get into Grand
Central and do something, or one in Grand Central and one in Penn Station, and
one in here and one there. I don’t know. It’s a mystery,” he said.

“Maybe
it’s something in people’s heads that they can’t do it. It’s in another realm.”

These
days, Mr. Schumer lives in a political world that is built around issues he has
helped to define in his years in the Senate: the coming judicial showdown in
Washington, political fund-raising and, now, terror on the subways.

Mr.
Schumer spoke to The Observer on
Sunday night after 10 p.m. from the Prospect Park West apartment he shares with
his wife, City Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall. In the background
was the buzz of a television that his two children, home for the summer, were
watching. The Senator managed to convey both an eagerness to get off the
telephone and back to his family and a willingness to answer any number of
questions—and at any length—on the areas of his expertise and power that
currently are at the center of American life.

“Chuck
has an amazing ability to be at the center of every debate,” said Josh Isay, a
political consultant and former aide to Mr. Schumer. “He always has, throughout
his career—and this is the ultimate example of that.”

Mr.
Schumer had awakened that morning in Washington amid the last throes of a
quick, hard Drudge Report spin cycle from the previous week. The site reported
that Mr. Schumer had been “overheard on a long cellphone conversation with an
unknown political ally,” talking about the coming battle over judicial
nominees.

“Schumer
proudly declared: ‘We are contemplating how we are going to go to war over
this.’”

Mr.
Schumer disagreed with that characterization. “He clearly took my words and
twisted them. That’s what these blogs do,” Mr. Schumer said. “It’s been clear
that we’ve been trying to get the President to appoint a consensus nominee.”

That
morning, he sat for NBC’s Meet the Press with
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, talking about homeland security and about the
judges fight, batting away the Drudge item and coming back to the suggestion
that Mr. Hatch himself might be Mr. Bush’s nominee.

“I
wouldn’t want to ruin his chances by endorsing the candidacy here on your show,
Tim,” he joked to the show’s host, Tim Russert.

The
next stop was Hogan Square in downtown Manhattan, where Mr. Schumer—backed by
lawyers from the offices of the Brooklyn and Staten Island district attorneys—gave an early-afternoon
press conference about out-of-state sex offenders living, unregistered, in New
York. The revelations found their way into the local news programs later in the
evening.

The
next stop was Newport, R.I., where Mr. Schumer—who is also the chairman of the
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee—hosted a fund-raiser that capped an
exceptionally successful few months of shaking the money trees. His committee
raised more than $13 million in the second quarter of this year, including $6.9
million in June alone, leaving it with twice as much cash on hand as its
Republican counterpart.

Of
all these issues, it is the court battle that will likely consume Mr. Schumer’s
attention, and shape his national stature, as the summer wears on. Mr. Schumer
fired the first shot in that battle back in 2001, when Democrats controlled the
Senate and he was the powerful chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s
subcommittee on courts.

In
an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times
that year, Mr. Schumer rebuffed the Republican suggestion that temperament and
style—rather than ideology and policy stances—should be the focus of judicial
confirmation hearings.

“For
one reason or another, examining the ideologies of judicial nominees has become
something of a Senate taboo …. Unfortunately, the taboo has led senators who oppose
a nominee for ideological reasons to justify their opposition by finding
nonideological factors, like small financial improprieties from long ago,” Mr.
Schumer wrote. “It would be best for the Senate, the president’s nominees and
the country if we return to a more open and rational debate about ideology when
we consider nominees.”

As
at least one Supreme Court nomination hearing approaches, leading Republican
Senators have conceded—over the protests of conservative lobbying groups—that
questions about abortion, for instance, are fair game.

“I
think I’ve more or less won the argument,” Mr. Schumer said.

But
the Senator has also become a conservative target in the early skirmishing.
After the Drudge item, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins called Mr.
Schumer’s comments “shameful” and called on him to “recuse himself” from the
Senate’s deliberations on the judiciary.

“I
was sort of flattered. Basically, what they asked for was silly,” Mr. Schumer
said of Mr. Perkins. “They feel I’m an obstacle in their way, which I’m proud
to be.

“The
stakes are so high. I think Bush is at a Rubicon,” Mr. Schumer continued. “For
his first term, his view was: appease the hard right—don’t make the mistake his
father did when he raised taxes. And it worked. But in his second term, it’s
not working at all.”

But
while Mr. Schumer is optimistic about the Democrats’ national position, he
isn’t giving an inch on the fight over the judiciary.

Judicial Fight

“The
damage that can be done in the interim is just so large if they put two
way-out-of-the-mainstream [nominees] on the court,” he said. “I don’t mean
O’Connor-type conservatives who are thoughtful and try to hear the other side,
but people who want to turn back the clock … who want to go back to limiting
the commerce clause to the way it was before the 1930′s or even the 1900′s.

“It’s
going to change America for a generation, no matter who is elected in 2008 to
the Presidency and to the Congress,” Mr. Schumer concluded.

The
Senator wouldn’t weigh the merits of specific candidates for the Supreme Court
post that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor will vacate, and he wouldn’t comment on
the notion that U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is likely the most
congenial candidate that Democrats can hope for.

“You
can’t make a judgment—I really believe this—you have to go though the process,”
Mr. Schumer said. “You have to study their record thoroughly; you have to ask
them questions.”

Mr.
Schumer has been overshadowed by the state’s junior Senator, Hillary Rodham
Clinton, since she was elected in 2000—everywhere except on the local news, at
least. But he is emerging—with her, but more quietly—as a shaper of the
Democratic Party itself. His role on the DSCC means that he will be one of the
handful of people who will fashion his party’s message and identity at a time
when the party’s position on crucial issues like security remains ill-defined.

“That’s
one of the places where the Democratic Party has not come to a consensus,” he
said of security. “On some other areas … we have come to a consensus that a
more active government is needed. In the meat-and-potato issues we’re doing
very well, and I think those are the ones the public cares most about.”

Mr.
Schumer himself has staked out a classically Democratic position on security,
backing increased domestic spending and pushing for the development of
technologies to, for example, sniff out explosives on trains.

“We’re
in a new world, and the technology which underlies all these changes allows
small groups of people to hurt us, and you can’t ignore that problem,” he said.
“Any party or group that ignores that problem ignores it at their peril, and
there’s a trend among a handful of Democrats to ignore it. I don’t think we
can.”

The
role of ideologist is a new one to Mr. Schumer, but he said that he sees an
opportunity for his party.

“Democratic
ideas may be outdated—they stem from the New Deal and the 60′s—but Republican
Party ideas, Reagan Revolution ideas—they’re outdated too,” he said.

“The
Republican idea that that government which governs least governs best—that’s
over. And the public is up for grabs.”