It was the timing that got most of the attention. Just before Christmas, incoming Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY informed almost the entire staff of the Senate Democratic Media Center, a video production unit, that they were being let go. The decision to fire the staffers, so close to the holiday, was criticized on social media and in the conservative press, a side-effect a politician as seasoned as Schumer surely knew was coming. And that signals the urgency of the task the New York Democrat sees before him.
On January 20, Schumer will become the de facto leader of the Democratic Party in Washington. The Democrats will lose the White House to Donald Trump. And while the party is in the minority in both houses of Congress, the rules of the House of Representatives leave Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California little power to affect legislation unless the Republican majority devolves into internecine fighting (always a real possibility.)
At the party level, the Democratic National Committee is currently leaderless, pending the election of a new chair who will then face the task of organizing a staff demoralized by a devastating attack on its computer systems over the summer that resulted in embarrassing leaks of internal emails.
That leaves Schumer, armed with the attenuated power of the filibuster, as the only Democrat in Washington with the power to thwart Republican efforts to restructure the federal government under President Trump.
According to Politico, which broke the story of the video office firings, the point of the dismissals was to make room for a new video team with a very different message. The office Schumer is remaking was generally used by members to craft video messages that they could use to communicate with voters in their home districts. Politico and other outlets report that Schumer’s plan is to restructure the office into a social media-savvy political messaging outfit that can craft hard-hitting short videos designed to push Democrats’ messages and hammer Republicans on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
In a way, Schumer is taking a page from Trump’s own playbook. The president-elect owes much of his success to a strategy of taking his message directly to his followers, also on Facebook and Twitter, as well as through his constant stream of rallies.
Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, had some success with a quick-reaction video unit of her own during the campaign. Though it obviously wasn’t enough to win her the election, the Democratic nominee’s team was able to quickly produce and distribute slickly edited video clips -- frequently pillorying Trump for verbal gaffes or questionable statements in presidential debates.
Republicans, naturally, played up the timing of the decision. Sean Spicer, the chief strategist and communications director at the Republican National Committee, and a favorite to be named press secretary in the incoming Trump administration, needled Schumer on Twitter for not being in the “holiday spirit.”
But as the point man for a party that is struggling to rebuild itself, Schumer plainly has other things on his mind.