Who is Chuck Schumer?

Who is Chuck Schumer?
Source: Al Drago, Reuters
Schumer’s success or failure as Senate majority leader will depend on his ability to simultaneously attain Republican concessions while delivering on the progressive agenda of President Joe Biden.

When Senator Chuck Schumer assumed the role of Senate majority leader on January 20, it marked a major turning point for both himself and the Democratic Party. During President Donald Trump’s term in office, Schumer served as the leader of the minority party in the Senate, becoming one of the de facto faces of the opposition party. Now, though, his party is in power, albeit by a thin margin.

The New York senator’s career in politics has already spanned nearly five decades, but the next two years could be the most consequential toward cementing his legacy. At least, if he can effectively keep his party in line and on message. That won’t be easy, though, considering the Democrats hold the slimmest possible majority in the Senate and the party is riven by stark political differences.

Schumer’s success or failure as Senate majority leader will depend on his ability to simultaneously attain Republican concessions while delivering on the progressive agenda of President Joe Biden.

The early years of Chuck Schumer

Charles “Chuck” Ellis Schumer was born on Nov. 23, 1950, in Brooklyn, New York, to Abraham and Selma Schumer. His father was an exterminator and his mother a homemaker. The family is Jewish and includes Schumer’s two siblings, Fran and Robert. He is also a second cousin, once removed, of the comedian and actress Amy Schumer.

Schumer excelled in high school, attaining a perfect score of 1600 on the SAT. He also graduated as valedictorian in his class before attending Harvard University. He completed an undergraduate degree in political science and continued his studies at Harvard Law, completing his Juris Doctor degree in 1974. The following year, he passed the New York state bar exam, but he never practiced law.

In 1980, Schumer married Iris Weinshall, who is currently the chief operating officer for the New York Public Library. They maintain a home in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn and have two daughters, Jessica and Alison.

Chuck Schumer enters politics

Instead of pursuing a law career, Schumer went into politics straight out of Harvard Law. He was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1974 and officially began his political career in 1975, a career in which he has never lost an election. Schumer completed three terms in the state assembly before moving to the United States House of Representatives at the age of 30.

In the House, he represented Brooklyn and Queens for eight consecutive terms. Among his most consequential acts in the House was sponsoring the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). The law forbids the government “from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”

Although the RFRA was partially struck down by the Supreme Court in 1997 as unconstitutional in regard to state law, it has remained in effect as a precedent for federal law.

One of its most notable recent uses was in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the 2014 Supreme Court case which found Hobby Lobby, a private company, could not be mandated to provide health care to employees that included contraception. One of the lawyers who supported Hobby Lobby in that religious freedom case is current Republican Senator Josh Hawley.

Schumer was also one of the authors of the House version of the Violence Against Women Act that was eventually shepherded through the Senate by then-Senator Joe Biden. He has also been an advocate for greater gun control measures, including authoring the original Brady Violence Prevention Act, which introduced mandatory federal background checks and a waiting period for gun purchases.

Senator Chuck Schumer

In 1998, Schumer ran for the Senate. At the time, the seat was held by Republican Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato, who had held the seat since 1981. At the time, The New York Times called Schumer a “cunning” politician whose “political ascent has been steady and methodical.” Schumer came out of the election victorious.

Schumer has received 100% ratings from left-leaning advocacy groups for a range of causes, including the Human Rights Campaign, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the Sierra Club. He’s also received top ratings from the National Association of Police Organizations, but an “F” from the National Rifle Association.

In 2016, following an election in which the Democrats lost the presidential race and failed to recapture either chamber of Congress, Schumer ascended to the leadership of his party, replacing retiring Senator Harry Reid as the Senate minority leader.

Becoming the minority leader was the culmination of a yearslong effort to lead the party and a chance to remake the party in a more progressive image. Schumer blamed the losses in 2016 on the party lacking a “bold economic message.”

One of Schumer’s first acts as minority leader was escalating independent Senator Bernie Sanders to the party’s leadership team. Sanders, who is the new chair of the Senate Budget Committee, has the most progressive voting record in the Senate and has long advocated for leftist causes, including universal healthcare, raising the minimum wage and forgiving college loan debt.

Recently, Schumer has been described as a “centrist” Democratic, with a voting record over the last four years that has put him in the center-right of his party. This reflects his willingness to seek bipartisan support for legislation and the leftward turn of the party overall.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer

In January, Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won both Georgia Senate runoff elections, creating a 50/50 split in the Senate. With Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tiebreaker vote, Democrats technically have the lead in the chamber. As a result, Schumer became the new Senate majority leader as of January 20, replacing Republican Senator Mitch McConnell.

Schumer takes control of the Senate at a contentious moment in which political divisions are about as heated as any time in recent memory. He will be seeking to push through President Biden’s ambitious agenda while the Senate tries former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial.

This will all be done while working with some Republican colleagues who actively sought to overturn the 2020 election results.

Though Schumer was consistently opposed to Trump’s agenda as Senate minority leader, he will still face skepticism from the progressive wing of the party, which has at times been vocally critical of his leadership.

As he works to appease progressives, Schumer will also be struggling to win the support of conservative Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin, whose voting record puts him even further right ideologically than some Republicans. Manchin has already expressed opposition to abolishing the filibuster, a move Democrats may need to take if they want to pass their agenda.

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