“Before I took over, there was sort of an unwritten rule—do you mind if I put my feet up?” said Chuck Schumer, as he plopped his black stockinged feet onto a conference room in his Third Avenue office on the afternoon of Nov. 9.
As he chewed his way through a bag of oatmeal cookies, the senator explained how, as chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, he bucked tradition and recruited promising Senate candidates before primary contests, leading to a pick-up (so far) of six seats to add to the six the party picked up during his first cycle in charge two years ago.
The senior senator from New York is in a position to make himself very comfortable indeed.
In a broad-ranging 45-minute interview, Mr. Schumer discussed Barack Obama’s impact on the Senate races and the challenges and opportunities facing Democrats over the next four years. He expressed concern about the conservative Supreme Court, and weighed in on the futures of Hillary Clinton and John McCain in the Senate, and his hopes to turn bright-red Texas blue by 2010. He acknowledged the personal influence that comes with helping to bring so many new senators into the chamber, but refused to speculate about ever taking over as majority leader for Harry Reid, who he vows to help reelect.
“From my own point of view, my own Chuck Schumer point of view, I want Harry to stay as long as possible,” said Mr. Schumer. “I’ve already sat down with him and made sure how I can help in his reelection. I’m happy.”
For now, at least. As Cook Political Report analyst Jennifer Duffy put it, “I don’t see him as somebody who aspires to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—I think he is the ultimate legislator and he aspires to majority leader. I think his ambitions do not have to be realized tomorrow, and he has invested a lot of time in them, so he lets things work themselves out.”
Asked if he had any plans to serve as majority leader down the road, Mr. Schumer said, “I’m not even going to speculate. Because Harry’s here. Harry’s running for reelection. And he’s going to win and it’s a great team. Why change it?”
From the outside, at least, everything seems the same. At 11 a.m. on Sunday afternoon, television cameramen and reporters leaned against the wall in the small area in the Legislative office where Mr. Schumer assembles his Sunday press minyan.
Mr. Schumer walked in a little late, wearing a blue blazer and green tie, said, “Don’t get up, don’t get up,” and walked to his office at the end of the hall.
He came back out, said, “O.K., say when,” then began telling the cameras how New York would benefit from Mr. Obama’s victory because the new president appreciated the needs of cities.
“It’s one of these sea-change moments,” he said as an aide kicked a noisily buzzing water fountain. He said that the Rules Committee, which he is in line to chair, was “important” and “gives you clout in the Senate.” Talking about the opportunities to govern with Mr. Obama, he said, “I’ve been in government for 30 years and I’ve never been more enthusiastic.”
After repeating the crucial sound bites at the podium for a late-arriving cameraman, Mr. Schumer grabbed a bag of oatmeal cookies and headed into the conference room for the interview.
Emanating the optimism he had projected to the cameras outside, Mr. Schumer talked about how Mr. Obama, and he, helped make the Congressional gains happen.
“In Oregon, he did the only commercial he filmed because I called him and I said, ‘Look, Gordon Smith has put you, Barack Obama, on TV three or four times trying to convey the impression that you are really for him. The only antidote would be a commercial.’ The campaign was reluctant to do commercials for all the obvious reasons. But he stepped up to the plate and did this.”
(“Schumer rolled Barack,” is how one Obama aide put it, relating the same anecdote to The New Yorker of how Mr. Obama came to cut his only Senate ad.)
But Mr. Schumer also recognized some potential risks for the Democrats as they take control of the White House and both houses of Congress for the first time since 1993.