When Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid surprised Washington last week with the announcement he would retire from the Senate in early 2017 and not seek reelection, one of the first people he told was New York Sen. Chuck Schumer. The two men often speak first thing in the morning, last thing at night and several times in between, according to an account in Politico.
Reid almost immediately endorsed Schumer, 64, to replace him as key Senate Democratic leader. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the number-two Senate Democrat, said he wouldn’t stand in the way, and now Sen. Patty Murray, also mentioned as a potential Reid replacement, said she’ll support Schumer for the role. Schumer, the savvy political veteran who oversees the party’s “messaging” operation, said in a statement, “I am honored and humbled to have the support of so many of my colleagues.”
Schumer’s close ties to Wall Street and New York’s business community do not sit well with all Democrats, however. “Sen. Chuck Schumer has spent his entire career carrying water for Wall Street interests,” Becky Bond, political director for the liberal group CREDO Action, told The Los Angeles Times. “Add to that his support for the Iraq [war] and now a possible Iran war, and it makes him a disastrous choice to lead the Democratic caucus.”
Yet with the backing now of the entire Senate Democratic leadership team, there is a much brighter spotlight on Chuck Schumer. Here are key facts about him:
1: He was born Charles Ellis Schumer in Brooklyn, New York, on November 23, 1950. His mother, Selma, was a homemaker and his father, Abraham, ran an exterminating business. Schumer, who is Jewish, has two siblings and grew up in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn.
2: He graduated from James Madison High School in 1967 as valedictorian of his class and scored a perfect 1600 on the SAT. He graduated from Harvard College in 1971 and from Harvard Law in 1974. He never practiced law but went straight into politics.
3: When he won election in 1974 to the New York State Assembly at age 23, he became the youngest member of that body since Theodore Roosevelt. In 1980, he ran for and won a seat in the House of Representatives at age 29, representing Brooklyn and Queens in N.Y.’s 9th Congressional District.
4: He spent 18 years in the House before winning election to the Senate in 1998 and then two subsequent elections, in 2004 and 2010. He has never lost an election.
6: He’s so widely known as a media hog that Bob Dole once quipped, “The most dangerous place in Washington is between Charles Schumer and a television camera.” Burdett Loomis, a political science professor at the University of Kansas, followed with, “I’m not sure I’d want to get between Sen. Schumer and the position as leader.”
7: A two-time chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Schumer was instrumental in the 2006 Democratic takeover of the Senate (the party gained six seats that year) and in 2008 he helped the party gain eight seats.
8: Though more political operative than policy wonk, Schumer recently played a key role in a bipartisan group of eight senators who pushed for major immigration reform. (It died in the House.)
9. Schumer is pro choice and sponsored legislation to make the blockading of family planning clinics a federal crime.
10. On guns, he steered through passage of both the Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in September 2004 and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. He was one of 16 senators to vote against the Vitter Amendment prohibiting confiscation of legally owned firearms during a disaster.
11. He’s the author of one book, Positively American: Winning Back the Middle-Class Majority One Family at a Time, published in 2007. One of its standout lines: “We talked about [the middle class] but we didn’t listen to them. Even worse, we were under the illusion that they liked what we had to say. In the 2004 election, the middle class was the runaway bride and Democrats were left standing at the altar.”
12: For three decades he shared a Capitol Hill row house with a rotating cast of Democratic colleagues including Dick Durbin (IL) and Rep. George Miller (CA). He finally “traded up” for a rental in a building where one of his daughters lives. The fratty row home was the inspiration for the Amazon web series, Alpha House.
13. At that house Schumer was known for leaving a trail of crumbs behind him and was partial to cold cereal for breakfast – usually a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats.
14. He’s a bicycling enthusiast.
15. He still uses a flip phone. He rarely uses email.
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