It appears Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-New York) moment may have finally arrived.
Long known as a politician who seeks the spotlight, Schumer seems set to become one of the most powerful politicians in Washington. Schumer appears poised to succeed Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) as the powerful head of the Senate Democrats. And, if his party does well in the November 2016 elections, the even more powerful majority leader of the entire Senate.
On Friday, Reid shook up the Senate announcing he won’t run for re-election next year after previously insisting he would. Reid endorsed Schumer shortly after, and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), who would have been Schumer’s main rival for the position, soon followed.
According to one former Schumer staffer who talked with Business Insider on Friday, the senator was able to to rise in the legislature’s upper chamber by doing several things right. Schumer quickly learned to adapt the somewhat antiquated culture of the Senate, where “civility” is often prized. Additionally, he repeatedly demonstrated loyalty to Reid and offered his assistance to colleagues who didn’t cultivate the same political relationships he had.
“The US Senate is a Southern institution in which protocol and civility are highly valued. Senator Schumer has been diligent in not offending his colleagues, helping whenever asked, and serving as a productive conduit to a White House and president that, by all accounts, don’t much enjoy politics. Schumer has been loyal to Harry Reid, and because he will remain loyal, will likely continue to refrain from being aggressive,” the former staffer said.
Another former Schumer staffer and Washington veteran said Reid valued Schumer as a number two.
“He’s got the real trust of Reid,” the veteran said. “From Reid’s perspective, Chuck did a lot of the stuff he didn’t want to do.”
The person also suggested that, like Reid, Schumer is a master of Senate procedure who would be effective in the top post.
“I think anyone who knows Chuck would probably tell you, it’s not like he’s been chomping at the bit to get this going,” said the Washington veteran. “He’s been enjoying being the second in command guy. He’s been enjoying that immeasurably.”
The veteran speculated that Schumer’s time heading the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which he led from 2005 through 2009 helped him cement relationships that helped ensure him the support of his colleagues in the leadership election.
“The single biggest thing that Chuck has going for him in this race is his period of time as DSCC chairman when so many of the voters in this thing got to know Chuck as an every day, speed dial relationship,” the person explained.
In addition to building alliances, leading the committee allowed Schumer to demonstrate his campaigning and fundraising prowess during two landslide years for his party. The Democrats gained a total of 14 Senate seats.
For Schumer, 64, who currently heads Senate Democrats’ messaging efforts, his climb to the top of the Senate has been a long time coming. He successfully ran for a Brooklyn seat in the New York State Assembly when he was just 23-years-old and launched a successful congressional bid. After 18 years, he sought a promotion and knocked off incumbent Sen. Al D’Amato (R) in 1998.
Though the race to replace Reid is still in its earliest stages and could be affected by the electoral landscape — the new Congress will select its leaders in 2017, after the next election — political operatives are already buzzing about how Schumer might shake up the Capitol.
The former Schumer staffer, clearly a fan of the senator’s work, predicted Schumer would bring a “creative,” “effective,” and “consensus-building” approach to the Senate.
Phil Singer, a former senior adviser to Schumer who later founded his own consulting firm, Marathon Strategies, reacted similarly when Business Insider asked how he might fare as leader of the Senate’s Democrats.
“Chuck is the guy who reaches out to everyone and tries to be inclusive. Those traits will serve him well if he ends up becoming leader,” Singer said.
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