"He is not such a fighter." Can Chuck Schumer win with his rules on Trump's lawn?

"He is not such a fighter." Can Chuck Schumer win with his rules on Trump's lawn?

On Tuesday, nothing less than "the source of democracy and everything that goes with it," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in a recent interview. (Katherine Frey / The Washington Post)

On a July evening in 1980, Chuck Schumer visited the Brooklyn Philharmonic Theater – and began fighting backstage.

According to reports, then-29-year-old MP Schumer, who was then running for Congress, was furious with the organizer of the concert, Senator Marty Markowitz, for his plan to introduce Schumer and his opponents to the show.

The aspiring Congressman was firmly convinced that Markowtiz does not recognize his rivals. "The two were almost beaten," the Daily News reported, "and had to be separated."

The news reports were confusing and contradictory. Some in the New York press reported beating or "waving their arms." Schumers spokesman insisted that the confrontation in the park had never made it over the sublime votes.

Nowadays Schumer thinks about bigger battles than under the grandstand. He is the leader of the Senate minorities, whose job it is to protect his most vulnerable Democratic Party colleagues from losing their Tuesday elections in the states where President Trump won. At the same time he led the fight against Trump's agenda.

These two goals are often in conflict with each other, which puts Schumer in a familiar position: it is not clear whether he lands or simply beats.

Schumer, like his opponent in the White House, is an out-of-town boy who knows how to capitalize on the wild New York media market, and he often seems more interested in his team's victory than ideological purity.

But where Trump breaks all the rules of politics, Schumer seems to be led by them. His head is filled with poll numbers and answers from focus groups, more consultants than fighters.

Schumer's supporters say that this is the right man for the job: it takes a strategist to prevent the Senate from slipping further from democratic control.

His critics say that's what makes him a man out of time: if the president is ready to break all the rules, Democrats should not use the same, tired game book.

It's about the existential question of who the Democrats want to be. Who they have to be to return from the wilderness. After the elections in the middle, Schumer and his caucus will scrutinize how effective he was.

On this Brooklyn night at the Philharmonic, Markowitz stepped out of his backstage hustle and bustle with Schumer without shit. Defiantly, he acknowledged Schumers rival in his remarks. He was not bowed down by the anger of the future senator. And maybe the confrontation was less dramatic than the papers sounded.

"I did not hit him!" Schumer said recently in an interview.

"There was no quarrel," agreed Markowitz, when he was reached by phone. "Maybe he was upset. Chuck is very competitive. But he is not such a fighter. "

What raises the question of what kind of fighter is Chuck Schumer?


In the opinion of Schumer it is sometimes a matter of good leadership that the punches are not thrown. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Shortly after Trumps Wahl received some useful advice from Schumer.

"I stayed in the house for two days and made a moped," he said. "I am not a moper. that is so different from me. So I stayed in the house for two days and then I got a message from God and it went like this: "Chuck, stop messing around. If Hillary had been president and you were majority leader, as we all thought, it would be easier, it would be more fun and you would do some good things. But with Trump as president and you as a minority leader, your work is much more important. "

Schumer told this story at his home in the distance, a conference room at the headquarters of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, where he had spent most of the week polling data and was pooftwowing with political workers and kibitzing for the next important election in preparation for election life.

Tuesday is nothing less than "the source of democracy and everything that goes with it".

Schumer is old since his time as an ambitious fitter, his hair is gray and when he has gone back, he looks like pressed steel wool. He has the guts of a man who has enjoyed Chinese food for nearly 67 years, but a thin, angular face that rests rather in a grin. This, although under pressure, sometimes feels biblical.

A few days after his message from God in 2016, Schumer received a call from another type of higher power.

"Mr. President Elect, I'm driving past one of your golf courses," Schumer recalled as Trump answered the phone. "I did not tell him, and maybe I would've done it now … that's the course a failure. "

Such a commentary would have been counterproductive to Schumer. When he came to Trump, his goal was to try to find some areas where they could work together. He was able to be a dealmaker.

For those who were worried that he did not have what it took to fight a president who was perceived as dangerous, that attitude was a red flag.

Ezra Levin, co-founder of the grassroots organization Resistance Indivisible, recalls having read two stories from that period. In the first case, Schumer had discussed the possibility of working with the president on an infrastructure bill. The second had members of the Trump camp who discussed the possibility of registering for Muslim citizens.

"That was a very disturbing week," Levin said. "We were afraid that Schumer could help to build the streets to internment camps."

Of course, Levin's worst fears were not realized.

In fact, he and many other progressive activists were pleasantly surprised by the work Schumer did in 2017. There was a successful fight to protect the Affordable Care Act, in which Schumer held his overall chairmanship and spent hours working on the late Senator John McCain in front of his dramatic thumb rowed the #Resistance into a happy rage.

And although the Democrats were unable to repel Trump's massive tax cuts, they stayed together.

But 2017 was 2018 and in the middle of an election year, it looked like Schumer did not want to fight so much. The Democrats – even those closest to Schumer – began to wonder if he could be the man to lead the political brawl on Trump's land.

Schumer is famous for a number of things: to be magnetically attractive to television cameras, to own a flip-phone, to be an avid fund-raiser and to let employees work so long that they have no opportunity to meet other people and eventually marry. Schumer likes to play Matchmaker.

In 2011, Schumer flew to Cleveland to celebrate the marriage of his co-workers Brian Fallon and Katie Beirne. He sang karaoke style in the style of "New York, New York" and gave 10 minutes of toast.

That was then.

Now Fallon and Schumer have not spoken to each other in months.

Earlier this year, Fallon founded an organization called Demand Justice, a group dedicated to fighting the Trump administration's efforts to appoint conservative judges. In this capacity, he criticized his former boss of the sideline, something almost unknown to the ever-faithful Schumer Diaspora.

Many people on the left have criticized Schumer for many of his moves in 2018: he does not apologize to voters against Gina Haspel, Trump's choice for CIA director, and when Senator Elizabeth Warren was on a mission to defeat a republican bill Wall Street regulations called for them to set fire to the Democrats who supported them. For Fallon, it was particularly annoying in August when Schumer signed a deal with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and had the opportunity to fight a number of conservative judiciary candidates to bring his members home to campaign for the averages.

"I've begged you not to do any more with Trump's judges, but as soon as Chuck thinks it could make life more difficult for his incumbents, this tends to be the end," he said.

Fallon is aware that the Democrats probably could not stop Republicans from confirming their judges. But maybe that's not the point. Maybe Democrats need to show that they are ready to appear for the battles that are important.

In the opinion of Schumer it is sometimes a matter of good leadership that the punches are not thrown.

On the day Brett M. Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford testified during the controversial Supreme Court nomination process, the hearing was interrupted by a Senate lunch. At the meeting, Schumer recommended that the Justice-Democrats stay calm while questioning Kavanaugh.

"I said, be strong against him, but without screaming," remembers Schumer. "You are much better when you argue without vitriol."

Looking back, Vitriol seems to have won the day. Kavanaugh won righteous self-defense on the right, supported by a theatrical assistant to an angry Senator Lindsey O. Graham. Democrats, on the other hand, seemed almost flat.

But Schumer does not regret how the Democrats played the moment. He believes the Democrats have done a good job defining Kavanaugh and his Republicans as extremists and misogynists. Republicans have brought justice to their Supreme Court, but at what price?

"We'll see how much victory Kavanaugh really was for her," he said.


Schumer draws a chart in which he believes Democrats and Republican politicians fall into the political spectrum. (Katherine Frey / The Washington Post)

Candidates for a job In Schumer's office, two things should be expected from the interview process: First, Schumer can get her SAT score (it is not necessary to ask him, he offers that he has reached these points). Second, he will ask you where different senators in an ideological spectrum fall from zero (most conservative) to 100 (most liberal). It is important to know that there is a correct answer for Schumer. it is 75.

"That's intentional," said a former Schumer employee who spoke openly on condition of anonymity. "He really needs everyone who knows he's in the middle of his party. It's a picture thing, but it has the advantage that it's probably true too. "

If that feels a bit good, that's Schumer too. He has gone so far as to build an imaginary family out of nothing and seek their advice all the time. He used to refer to her as "The O'Reillys," a middle-class family that does not stick to politics so much, spending a lot of time discussing things at the kitchen table.

"I know her," said Schumer. "I grew up with families like you."

In 2016, he voted for Trump and she for Clinton, Schumer said. In this election, both vote for Democrats.

He always asked, "What would the O'Reillys think? "Eric Schultz, a former spokesman for Schumer, said that he does not ask that anymore, but that's because Schumer wrote about the family in 2007 and decided that her name should be a bit more national." Now he always asks, "What would happen the Baileys think? "

"To be clear," Schultz added. "He does not just talk to imaginary people."

No, he actually talks to everyone. The whole time.

"The first week he was leader I probably got more calls from Chuck than from Harry Reid in four years," said Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

"He understands the need for each Senate member," said Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii. "He does not need a table, the table is in his head."

His ability to cope with the needs of a caucus that includes moderates such as Sen. Joe Manchin III and Progressives like Warren has made him popular with members. The Republicans may like to call their opponent "Schumer dolls," but the truth is that he rarely rolls his arms too hard.

It may make him look like a little girl to some.

"Schumer should not be the leader of the resistance and can not be the leader of the resistance," said Rebecca Katz, a progressive adviser who used to work for Majority Leader Sen. Harry M. Reid. "It's kind of a problem."

Or, as the onion puts it so openly: "Chuck Schumer is relieved that he never took a stand to explode someone."

In 2007 Schumer may have had the same criticisms of his current work.

"We have to be clearer, bolder, broader and more concrete," he wrote. "I've seen that by consensus it's just not possible."

How does that relate to the way he leads the caucus now?

"I think I've evolved," he said.

Evolution comes with time. Schumer's goal now is to fill the stage with more Democrats instead of pushing them away. It is possible that Schumer came into the same trap a decade ago when he said that the best ideas of the Democrats would often be "drowning in a sea of ​​consensus". Maybe democrats need a resistance leader who can use the energy, anger, and anger to the passion of the left.

Or it turns out that the best antidote to a government ruled by a relentless president is a party that at least seems to seek unity.

"It's the hardest job I've ever had to fight Trump without all the cards," Schumer said. "Maybe we have more cards in November – God willing."

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