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New York Senator Chuck Schumer Is the Most Powerful Democrat in Congress — Now What?

It’s a frequent gag in Washington, D.C. that there’s no more dangerous place to be than between New York Senator Chuck Schumer and a camera. Schumer will have to use his skills with the press next January, as he becomes Senate minority leader in a town where both houses of Congress and the presidency will be controlled by Republicans.

Schumer has been on the national stage for decades, and he’s not exactly a new character to most. Promising from a young age, he ran and won for a New York State Assembly seat at the age of 23, after earning his undergraduate and law degrees at Harvard. He moved onto Congress six years later, eventually winning election in 1998 to the Senate, where he has served ever since.

He makes constituent outreach and retail politics a high priority, even addressing concerns over small things like potholes and defective street signs. He also makes a point of visiting all of New York’s 62 counties in each calendar year.

Considered one of the Democratic caucus’ more liberal members, he has run afoul of some on the left of the party due to his close ties to Wall Street, a main source of campaign cash in the world’s financial capital. He angered President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats when he opposed the administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, a pact that Schumer said would threaten the state of Israel.

Still, he’s known as a team player and a teacher among Democrats. He led the party’s successful effort a decade ago to seize control of the Senate, and has long served as the chair of Democratic conference in that chamber, just behind Minority Whip Dick Durbin and retiring Minority Leader Harry Reid in the pecking order.

He has proven to be a nurturer of up-and-coming politicians — prominent New York politicos like fellow Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner have emerged from his tutelage.

Next year, he faces a tall order in the Senate. Republicans will control the chamber — with either 52 or 53 seats as of this writing — as well as the House and the Oval Office. That puts Obama’s agenda, including his signature health reform, in mortal danger of repeal.

Schumer will also have to navigate Donald Trump’s nomination of at least one Supreme Court justice — the first to replace the deceased Antonin Scalia, with other vacancies looming.

There will be intense pressure on the minority leader to block as much of the president-elect’s agenda as he can, and he and his fellow Senate Democrats provide their party and liberals the greatest hopes of minimizing the new leader’s achievements.

Schumer and his press office were not reachable for comment by press time.

Contact Daniel J. Solomon at [email protected] or on Twitter @DanielJSolomon


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