Chuck Schumer has spent more than a dozen years thinking about how Democrats might wield power if they controlled the US Senate.
The veteran New York lawmaker was first tasked with electing more Democrats to the upper house of Congress in 2005. His party won 14 seats over the next four years, giving Democrats control of the Senate and propelling his colleague, Senator from Nevada, Harry Reid, as Senate Majority Leader.
More than a decade later, Mr Schumer, 70, picked up the torch, after Democrats reclaimed the Senate by the smallest margin possible in two tight laps in Georgia. The 100-member chamber is split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to vote for a decisive start.
This gives Mr Schumer a considerable task: he will have to strike a balance between the interests of his increasingly progressive party and the need to reach on the other side the Republicans grappling with the way of government in a post-era era. -Trump.
“He finally got the job he wanted for a long time,” said Jim Manley, longtime advisor to Mr. Reid. “But the problem is, he gets it under really difficult circumstances.”
Mr Schumer became majority leader last Wednesday, following the swearing-in of Ms Harris as vice-chair and Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia as senators.
He did so at a time of unprecedented resentment, barely two weeks after the violent siege on Capitol Hill that many Democrats blamed on fellow Republicans, especially Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz.
Mr Schumer’s first task was to work out a timeline for a Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump for inciting the Capitol Hill insurgency – one that would leave time to confirm cabinet appointments of Joe Biden and to examine his ambitious proposals for an additional $ 1.9 trillion in coronavirus relief.
Mr Schumer announced on Friday evening that he had struck a deal with Mitch McConnell, his Republican counterpart, for a trial to start on February 9.
But the two are still locked in difficult negotiations over an “organizational resolution,” or power-sharing deal, on how to run a middle-divided Senate. The upper house has only been so finely balanced once before, for a handful of months in 2001, and leaders must agree on how to divide up wanted committee assignments and structure important votes. .
Mr McConnell has said he will not sign any deal unless Mr Schumer agrees to preserve filibuster, an obscure rule that requires 60 senators to support legislation to become law. Progressives want the filibuster dropped so they can pursue more liberal policies such as statehood for the District of Columbia, while centrists like Mr. Biden and Joe Manchin, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, said the convention should stay.
Mr. Schumer faces a formidable opponent in Mr. McConnell, a more seasoned senator who has spent the past six years in the majority, first blocking Barack Obama’s legislative agenda, then using his authority to uphold a record number of conservative judges.
“The Senate is not functioning at all right now,” said Mr Manley, who called the upper chamber “incredibly toxic”.
“It’ll be up to [Mr Schumer] to find a way to make it work so they can start focusing on the legislative agenda. ”
At a press conference last week, reporters asked Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House who has a strong grip on her caucus and has proven to be a skilled negotiator with Mr McConnell, if she has advice for the new Senate majority leader. Ms Pelosi hesitated, saying she “wouldn’t think of giving him any advice.”
Mr Schumer’s former associates insist he is the man for the job.
“He still sees himself, in many ways, as an outsider trying to prove himself,” said Stu Loeser, communications strategist and former senior assistant to Mr Schumer. “He works very hard to get ahead, to beat strategy and to beat everyone.”
Mr Schumer grew up in a working-class Brooklyn family attending public schools – including a high school whose alumni include Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – before going to Harvard College and at Harvard Law School.
But he never practiced law, joining the New York State legislature before being elected to the House of Representatives in 1980. Almost two decades later, he ran for the Senate, ousting a longtime outgoing Republican.
Mr Loeser said his former boss had a knack for finding a compromise.
“He has been able to outsmart Republicans on substantive issues for more than 20 years,” Loeser said. “He doesn’t do it out of demagoguery and he doesn’t do it out of insults. He does this by finding a way to make it in their best interests to work with him.
Risa Heller, communications strategist and other former Schumer aide, said, “He knows every detail of everything you can imagine, every political detail, he knows everything about every county in New York State.”
Mr. Schumer visits each of New York State’s more than 60 counties at least once a year and spends as many nights as he can at his home in Brooklyn, rather than Washington, DC.
“He was a United States Senator, rising through the leadership ranks and missed fewer of his daughter’s basketball games. . . than any of the other dads, and those dads worked in Manhattan, ”Mr. Loeser said. Mr Schumer, who is married to longtime New York public servant Iris Weinshall, has two grown children.
Mr Schumer’s allies insist her ubiquity in New York would help her avoid an alleged main challenge from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive MP representing parts of the Bronx and Queens.
Ms Ocasio-Cortez came to the House two years ago after defeating longtime Democratic incumbent President Joe Crowley in a primary campaign that focused on him being largely absent in his district.
Schumer’s aides defend his ubiquity in national and local news by arguing that it is important for the senator’s voters to see that he is working for them. But it also aroused derision. Bob Dole, the former Republican senator, once noted that “the most dangerous place in Washington is between Charles Schumer and a television camera.”