When Is a Compliment Not a Compliment in the Senate?

Schumer: Strategy will lead to deal.
National Journal
Michael Catalini
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Michael Catalini
Oct. 24, 2013, 1:32 p.m.

Sen. Chuck Schu­mer of New York, the No. 3 Demo­crat in the Sen­ate, is look­ing ahead to the Feb. 7 debt-ceil­ing dead­line fa­cing lead­ers in Wash­ing­ton. To pre­vent an­oth­er close call, Schu­mer is sug­gest­ing what’s known around the Cap­it­ol as the “Mc­Con­nell Rule.”

The pro­pos­al was in­tro­duced by Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell of Ken­tucky dur­ing the 2011 fisc­al crisis, and it would let the pres­id­ent ex­tend the debt lim­it but also al­low Con­gress to send along a res­ol­u­tion of dis­ap­prov­al. If the pres­id­ent ve­toed it, Con­gress, of course, could then over­ride the veto.

It’s ex­pec­ted that Schu­mer would want to take any pos­sible lever­age away from Re­pub­lic­ans, but it’s also worth point­ing out that Schu­mer’s com­ment on Sunday’s Meet the Press was the second time Schu­mer em­braced Mc­Con­nell in pub­lic re­cently.

The first time came in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the shut­down and debt-ceil­ing ex­ten­sion when Schu­mer heaped praise on Mc­Con­nell for work­ing out an 11th-hour deal with Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id.

As has been typ­ic­al for Schu­mer throughout the shut­down and debt-lim­it drama, he shared his shrewd polit­ic­al ana­lys­is at the same time.

“My hat goes off to Sen­at­or Mc­Con­nell,” Schu­mer said at the time. “He’s in a very dif­fi­cult situ­ation polit­ic­ally. And once he saw that Speak­er [John] Boehner in the House was tied in a total knot, he knew he had the ob­lig­a­tion to step up, even if it might hurt him in his cam­paign. I re­spect that. I think every one of my Demo­crat­ic col­leagues re­spects that. And it’s something that I’ll re­mem­ber.”

Schu­mer might have been pay­ing Mc­Con­nell a com­pli­ment, but that’s not the way the com­ment played in con­ser­vat­ive me­dia circles or in Mc­Con­nell’s GOP primary back home in Ken­tucky.

“Mitch Mc­Con­nell is pro­moted in a pos­it­ive light by the de­test­able Chuck Schu­mer and the me­dia: ‘He’s the adult in the room,’ ” said con­ser­vat­ive talk ra­dio show host Mark Lev­in. “How the hell can I sup­port this guy for any­thing?”

Lev­in went on to en­dorse Mc­Con­nell’s primary chal­lenger, Louis­ville busi­ness­man Matt Bev­in.

For his part, Mc­Con­nell has said in in­ter­views since the pres­id­ent signed the agree­ment he helped broker that his role in seal­ing the deal il­lus­trates he’s the go-to guy when grid­lock strikes in D.C.

“I’ve demon­strated, once again, that when the Con­gress is in grid­lock and the coun­try is at risk, I’m the guy who steps for­ward and tries to get us out of the ditch,” Mc­Con­nell said in an in­ter­view with Na­tion­al Re­view.

From his per­spect­ive, the deal un­der­cuts his Demo­crat­ic chal­lenger, Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes, who has painted him as “Sen­at­or Grid­lock.”

“She’s go­ing to need to find a new ra­tionale,” Mc­Con­nell said.

Schu­mer’s flick­er­ing em­brace of Mc­Con­nell pro­motes Sen­ate col­legi­al­ity but also, shrewdly, dings Mc­Con­nell with the right-wing of the Re­pub­lic­an party, said long-time New York Demo­crat­ic op­er­at­ive Hank Sheinkopf.

“The two ac­tions fit to­geth­er. Here’s Schu­mer who caresses Mc­Con­nell while at the same time put­ting a knife in his back at home,” Sheinkopf said. “Schu­mer is a very smart tac­ti­cian.”

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