In the final hours before the vote on Joe Biden’s Covid relief bill, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia had thrown a curve ball at his fellow Democrats. In fact, he had jeopardized the entire bill by possibly joining the Republicans on unemployment benefits.
Manchin seemed immovable. The White House Legislative Affairs Team I could not get it to give in. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the House’s top Democrat, also met with him but couldn’t get him to move, according to two Democrats with knowledge of those discussions. Finally, Manchin and Biden got on the phone directly, twice. Unemployment benefits on the bill were cut for a few weeks and the bill regained momentum.
The episode underscores an important dynamic between Schumer and Biden. For decades, the two Democrats have struggled to get the jobs they now have: Schumer as Senate Majority Leader under a Democratic president, and Biden as president with his party commanding both houses of Congress.
But now the two Democrats have to deal with a sometimes rebellious and very thin Democratic majority in Congress amid an ongoing global pandemic and a reeling economy. For Biden, successfully achieving his political goals depends on close coordination with Schumer. For Schumer, working with Biden and ushering in his agenda could decide how long he will be the majority leader or even whether he has to worry about a primary challenge from the left.
While Biden and Schumer have served in very powerful Democratic circles and served as second-in-command to party leaders who fostered strong relationships, their history together is comparatively weak for two Democrats who have been in national politics for decades. They have a good relationship, but they are not best friends.
“Look, are they close friends? No, ”said a former Obama administration official. “But is there a lot of respect and affection for each other? Yes. They are quite different people, but I think they admire each other. This is not a situation where your kids hang out or go to family barbecues. “
Biden, 78, and Schumer, 71, are the pillars of the Democratic Party. They are both known for their love of retail politics and conversation. They both come from comparatively humble beginnings. Both have been in the Senate for decades. And both have at times been more closely aligned with the more moderate wing of the Democratic Party and at other times with the more liberal wing.
But despite all their similarities, there are also many differences. Schumer graduated from Harvard University. Biden went first to the University of Delaware and then to Syracuse University School of Law. Schumer went from the House of Representatives to the Senate. Biden was a member of the New Castle County Council before being elected to the upper house.
During his time in the Senate, Biden became chairman of two prestigious committees. Schumer distinguished himself by his terms as chairman of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arms and, in his early days, pressuring Democrats not to hold back against the Bush administration’s judicial candidates.
Yet perhaps most importantly, Biden’s ambitions always transcended the Senate. Schumer is less so. There were times when speculation grew that Schumer could be a dark horse presidential candidate, but he has always quickly eliminated him.
“I am not going to be president. I’m happy to be a senator, ”Schumer told Charlie Rose in an interview in 2007. When pressed, Schumer reiterated, saying,“ What’s next? Do you know what my job is now? Have our Democratic majority in the Senate. I am part of leadership … I love what I do. And if you do it right, everything will work out. “
Ideological or political disputes between the two Democrats have been rare, but they have happened. An exception was around 1999 when Biden expected move legislation that would have made it more difficult to file for bankruptcy. Schumer wanted to include an amendment that would have made it difficult for anti-abortion protesters not to have to pay court fines when filing for bankruptcy. Biden did not openly oppose the amendment, even though he sometimes defended anti-abortion positions based on his Catholic faith. In the end, the amendment did not reach the final version of the bill, and Biden joined more than a dozen Democrats and Republicans in passing the bill. Then-President Bill Clinton ended up vetoing it.
More pertinent to the debates brewing today are Biden and Schumer’s thoughts on filibuster. When Schumer was a new entrant in the Senate and loudly urging his colleagues used whatever mechanism available to block judicial nominees chosen by then-President George W. Bush that Democrats considered too extreme. This included an investigation of the opposition that Schumer’s staff shared with reporters and fellow Democratic senators. In a 2003 New York Times ArticleBiden praised Schumer’s tactics regarding Miguel Estrada, a Bush candidate for the Washington DC circuit court of appeals, for striking a chord with conservatives.
“There are some senators who have the same views that Chuck has,” Biden was quoted as saying by the Times. “But the conservatives don’t care about them because they are not effective.”
But Biden ended up losing a key vote on Estrada’s nomination, which was ultimately withdrawn.
At other times, though both Schumer and Biden have been cautious about the effectiveness of filibuting nominees to no avail. In a 2006 Chicago Sun-Times story about Democratic opposition to Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, who would eventually join the Supreme Court, Biden is described as joining Schumer and the then Senate Majority Leader. Harry Reid to reluctantly fight Alito with a filibuster.
“I think obstructionism makes sense when you have a chance to be successful,” Biden said at the time.
Now, the two leaders are under increasing pressure to support major changes in filibuster or gut it all together. Biden has abstained to support such reforms and there are still not enough votes in the Democratic caucus to pressure Schumer to change the obstruction tool either.
Biden and Schumer speak regularly, according to their aides, and have been in close contact during the approval of Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion Covid relief deal. Schumer has announced his relationship with Biden, posting an Instagram video of him talking to Biden when media outlets reported that Biden had officially won the 2020 presidential election.
But interviews with a dozen Democrats, as well as other top party officials, say that most of Biden and Schumer’s interactions have been in the ability to be high-ranking officials in the room with higher-ranking officials, such as during the Obama administration when Biden was vice. -the president and Schumer was the third-ranked Democrat in the House.
On Friday, during a speech praising the passage of Biden’s aid bill, the president emphasized praising Schumer’s work in advancing the legislation in the Senate.
“But joking aside, we still have a lot of Majority Leaders,” Biden said, speaking in front of Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “But I have never seen anyone handle such controversial and consequential legislation that was borderline, like Chuck Schumer. I owe you one, Chuck. You did an incredible job. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism