New York: Senior Senator|
Sen. Charles Schumer (D)
Last Updated July 15, 2003
Charles Schumer is New York's senior senator, a Democrat who is an important policymaker on many issues. Schumer grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and graduated first in his class at James Madison High School, alma mater also of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman. He graduated from Harvard College and law school and, with the latter diploma fresh in his hand in June 1974, immediately began running for an open Assembly seat. He won, at 23. In 1980 he was elected to the House from an open Brooklyn seat, just before he turned 30. Through energy, imagination, hard work, good humor and a certain amount of chutzpah, he became a skilled legislator, and one noted--and sometimes resented--for his knack for getting publicity: Bob Dole was one of the first to say that the most dangerous place in Washington was in between Schumer and a television camera.
From the unlikely venue of the Banking Committee, a panel that most talented members lobby to get off of, Schumer spotted the perverse incentives set up by the combination of deposit insurance and letting S&Ls make risky investments. On Judiciary and, eventually, as chairman of its Crime Subcommittee, he ranged far afield, contributing key provisions to immigration acts in 1986 and 1990, leading with free marketeer Dick Armey attacks on farm subsidies, and, with Florida Republican Dan Miller, a nearly successful assault on sugar programs. Schumer sponsored the 1994 crime bill and got the House to pass the Brady bill, with its waiting period for handgun purchases, over strong opposition from the National Rifle Association.
The idea of running for statewide office was surely never far from his mind. Iin April 1997 Governor George Pataki's strong job rating, and especially his overwhelming strength Upstate, convinced Schumer to use his $5 million treasury to run for Alfonse D'Amato's Senate seat instead. It was by no means obvious that he would win. D'Amato was known for his assiduous constituent service and for his ability to win the tabloid wars that dominate campaigning in metropolitan New York. D'Amato was chairman of the Banking Committee and excelled at raising money; his early support did much to make Pataki governor. Schumer started off largely unknown outside his district and faced serious primary opposition from 1984 vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro and Mark Green, New York City Public Advocate and D'Amato's opponent in 1986. By summer, Schumer was leading in polls and was much better financed, and in September he won the primary with 51% of the vote, to 26% for Ferraro and 19% for Green.
Schumer immediately launched an attack on D'Amato, saying he had told ''too many lies for too long''; it echoed D'Amato's attacks on earlier opponents as ''too liberal for too long.'' Schumer claimed he was tougher on crime, citing his support for longer sentences, limiting death row appeals, expanding capital punishment and broadening wiretap authority; he emphasized his support of abortion rights and gun control. D'Amato concentrated heavily on Schumer's missed votes while running for Senate, but the implication that Schumer was lazy was implausible. Still, by mid-October, Schumer's poll leads were mostly less than the statistical margin of error. But in a closed meeting before a Jewish group D'Amato called Schumer a ''putzhead''; when that became public, he denied it, then backtracked unconvincingly after his own supporter, former Democratic Mayor Edward Koch, confirmed it. D'Amato lost confidence and momentum, and by early November was sagging in polls. Schumer, who announced in October that he would vote against impeachment though he believed Bill Clinton lied under oath, was the beneficiary of two visits from Clinton and no less than four from Hillary Rodham Clinton (the rousing reception she got may have been what convinced her to run for the Senate in New York two years later). Though outspent, Schumer won 55%-44%, winning 74%-25% in a big turnout in New York City and losing the suburbs by only 51%-49%. He lost Upstate by only 53%-45%. Jewish voters, about 40% of whom voted for D'Amato in 1986 and 1992, now went 76%-23% for Schumer; voters with graduate degrees, the most heavily Democratic educational group in New York, went 69%-31% for Schumer.
In the Senate, Schumer has a solidly liberal voting record. He has been on the national news--he appeared 14 times on Sunday interview programs, sixth most of all senators, in his first year--but he has also taken care to keep in touch with New Yorkers. He has made a practice of visiting all 62 counties each year, and regularly spends Mondays on Upstate swings that get him on Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany television. He is one of three Americans in history who have cast two votes on the impeachment of a president (the other two are Mike Crapo of Idaho and Jim Bunning of Kentucky); Schumer voted against impeaching Clinton in the House in December 1998 and against conviction in the Senate in February 1999.
An ally of the securities industry on both the House and Senate Banking Committees, he has called for making electronic communications networks subject to the same regulations as stock exchanges and for making the New York Stock Exchange a profit-making corporation. He played a key role in the scuttling of the bankruptcy bill in 2001 and 2002. He persuaded the Senate to pass an amendment that made fines and penalties for blocking access to or attacking abortion clinics not dischargeable in bankruptcy in May 2002; some abortion opponents had taken to declaring bankruptcy to avoid paying fines. But abortion opponents in the House, led by Chris Smith and Joe Pitts, refused to vote for the bill as long as it had Schumer's amendment. Leaders in both houses got Schumer and Henry Hyde, with whom he had long worked on the House Judiciary Committee, to negotiate a compromise amendment. But that too was unacceptable to the Smith-Pitts group, and when the House leadership introduced a rule to consider the bill in November 2002 it was defeated 243-172 and the bankruptcy bill died. Advocates of the bill, primarily the credit card companies, will presumably try to block the Schumer amendment in 2003. Schumer has also taken on the pharmaceutical companies by sponsoring with John McCain an amendment that would deny them extension of their patents beyond their original time when they challenge a generic drugmaker for patent infringement. In July 2002 the amendment passed the Senate 78-21. But the underlying prescription drug bill never passed. Another Schumer cause is making the first $5,000 or so of college tuition tax deductible. But he was unable to get such a provision into the tax cut bill in May 2001.
Schumer serves on Judiciary, where he was one of the most vocal opponents of the confirmation of Attorney General John Ashcroft. He was chairman of the Subcommittee on Courts, and has argued that senators should reject Bush appointees on "purely ideological grounds"; in early 2003 he was one of the leading opponents of the confirmation of Miguel Estrada. Attention to New York interests can be detected in many of his stands. He played a leading role in shaping the election procedure bill after the Florida controversy. But he opposed Christopher Bond's amendment requiring that first-time voters be required to show photo identification--many Gothamites don't have driver's licenses. Even when the amendment was broadened to allow use of Social Security numbers, utility bills, government check stubs or other means of identification, he and Hillary Rodham Clinton voted against the final version of the bill in October 2002, the only two senators to do so. He has called a number of times for release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve--which would lower home heating costs in Upstate New York--and sponsored a bill to reclassify SUVs as cars, not trucks, and subject them to higher fuel efficiency requirements. Schumer and Orrin Hatch sponsored a bill in 2002 to allow playwrights' associations to negotiate standard royalty agreements.
On September 11 Schumer was in Washington; his daughter was in school a few blocks from the World Trade Center. Amid the terrible news, Schumer and others in the New York delegation conferred and agreed to seek $20 billion in aid for New York. In the Oval Office on September 13 Schumer and Clinton met with George W. Bush. Bush asked how much New York needed. Schumer paused and said $20 billion. Schumer later described the scene to Frank Bruni of the New York Times. "You could almost see in his mind he was saying, 'This is a lot of money.' But this is why I have a little faith in him, and maybe this is imagining and wishful thinking, but I don't think so. I could see he was calculating in his head, 'I have to bring America together. I know New York was not for me, the blue state and all that, but I'm going to do this.'" Bush's reaction: "You got it." The usually voluble Schumer's reaction? "My mouth dropped open." Of course there was more to it than that. The New Yorkers understood that some of the money would not be forthcoming immediately, since no one had decided how to reconstruct the World Trade Center site and its transportation facilities. Schumer worked to prevent OMB and House Republicans from putting off as much of the spending as they wanted and dealt with the backlash against Pataki's calling for $54 billion. The Bush administration turned to Schumer to get support for what became the USA Patriot Act, and Schumer and Clinton backed the proposal to let the FBI share information on terrorism with state and local police. In June 2002 Schumer and Jon Kyl sponsored a bill to change the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to allow surveillance of terrorists not connected to a foreign government. In December 2002 he called for government tracking using new electronic devices of trucks carrying hazardous materials.
Schumer also began speaking out more on foreign policy. In general he has said he is more aligned with the "proactive and multilateral" Colin Powell than with administration "hawks." He voted for the Iraq war resolution in October 2002 and openly questioned whether the Saudis have cooperated fully with the war on terrorism.
When Hillary Rodham Clinton was elected in November 2000, many thought there would be friction between the aggressive Schumer and the more famous Clinton. There mostly hasn't been, not in public anyway. Clinton was probably irritated after Schumer said of Bill Clinton's January 2001 pardon of Marc Rich: "The pardoning of fugitives stands our criminal justice system on its head." And they must have had some disagreements as they struggled to help New York after September 11: the more earthy Schumer seemed to get along better with Bush, the more disciplined Clinton seemed to get along better with some Republican senators. But Clinton was irritated when in July 2002 Schumer endorsed Carl McCall for governor. Neither had endorsed a candidate in the fractious 2001 mayoral race, and Schumer's endorsement of McCall, who is black, over Andrew Cuomo, whom he has never cared for, put Clinton in a spot. Cuomo was, after all, a faithful member of the Clinton administration as HUD Secretary. She surely did not want to endorse either one and thus oppose the other. A solution was found when, with the active mediation of Bill Clinton, Cuomo withdrew from the race one week before the primary.
After Democrats lost their Senate majority in November 2002, Schumer said the party should follow Bill Clinton's advice. "The American people are centrist. I reject the Democrats who say 'We've got to move further to the left; that's why we lost.'" He called for the party to concentrate on homeland security, energy dependence, taxes (a one-year payroll tax cut), education and health care. He predicted that Congress would reject the Democratic prescription drug benefit as "better but too expensive" and called for support of the Republican alternative as a free-standing measure, without major changes in Medicare.
Life as a senator is not as glamorous as some may think. While Hillary Rodham Clinton holds fundraisers in her $2.8 million house in Washington, Schumer shares a Capitol Hill townhouse with Senator Dick Durbin and Congressmen Bill Delahunt and George Miller; Al Franken has been trying to fashion a television series on this, "Little House on the Hill," with an aggressive Upper West Side Congressman named Chip Weinberg. Even so, Schumer clearly wants to continue being a senator. In December 2002 he had $13.6 million cash on hand for his reelection campaign in 2004. The omens for his campaign are good. He has had a high job rating, well above 50%, and he seems far better known and liked in Upstate New York than when he started running in 1997. Precedent is in his favor: no Democratic incumbent senator has been defeated in New York since direct election of senators began (although seven incumbent Republicans have lost). His most formidable opponent would be Rudolph Giuliani; a March 2003 poll showed him leading Schumer by 45%-40%. But few think Giuliani is interested; he has embarked on a business career, he needs a high income to maintain his lifestyle and he is a national celebrity already. Long Island Congressman Peter King, Buffalo Congressman Jack Quinn and Upstate Assemblyman John Faso, who lost the 2002 comptroller race by only 50%-46%, took themselves out of the Senate race. Also mentioned as possible candidates were Erie County Executive Joel Giambra, a Democrat until 1998; Secretary of State Randy Daniels, a former newsman; and Ted Forstmann, the investment banker.
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202-224-6542; Fax: 202-228-3027; Web site: schumer.senate.gov
518-431-4070; Binghamton,607-772-6792; Buffalo,716-846-4111; Manhattan,212-486-4430; Melville,631-753-0978; Red Hook,914-285-9741; Rochester,585-263-5866; Syracuse,315-423-5471.
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|National Journal Ratings
For National Journal's complete 2002 Vote Ratings, as well as previous ratings dating back to 1995, please click here.|
Key Votes Of The 107th Congress
|1. Approve Bush Tax Cuts
|2. Expand Patients' Rights
|3. Campaign Finance Reform
|4. Permit ANWR Development
|5. Confirm Ashcroft as AG
|6. Bar Gays in the Boy Scouts
| 7. $ for Hate Crime Prosecution
| 8. Overseas Military Abortions
| 9. Bar Coop. with Intl. Court
|10. Trade Promotion Authority
|11. Authorize Force in Iraq
|12. Homeland Sec. Dept. Union
||Charles Schumer (D-Ind-L)
|Al D'Amato (R-C-RTL)
||Charles Schumer (D)
|Geraldine A. Ferraro (D)
|Mark Green (D)
Prior winning percentages:
1996 House (75%); 1994 House (73%); 1992 House (89%); 1990 House (80%); 1988 House (78%); 1986 House (93%); 1984 House (72%); 1982 House (79%); 1980 House (77%)
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