The moment that Chuck Schumer has been training for his whole life came sometime after sunset on Friday night when U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia died in his sleep at a ranch in West Texas.
There’s no way that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky and his Republican colleagues can be prepared for the onslaught that the senior U.S. senator from New York will wage if they hold to their pledge to delay the confirmation of President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia.
While Schumer may have graduated from Harvard Law, he also made his bones in the old Brooklyn Democratic Party machine – when a machine was a machine – to become one of the youngest men ever elected to the state Assembly, then the House of Representatives, before successfully toppling Republican Alphonse D’Amato for his U.S. Senate seat.
If McConnell brings a rock to this fight, Schumer is sure to bring a knife. If McConnell brings a knife, Schumer will bring a gun.
In the late 1990s, when campaign donors hung up the telephone with Schumer after agreeing to contribute to his Senate campaign, to their surprise, within an hour, a messenger would knock at their door to pick up the check.
While most of the political chatter over the weekend was centered on the impact of Scalia’s death on the presidential race and Republicans’ threat to block the president from fulfilling his constitutional duty, most seem to have missed that this will fuel an all-out war for control of the U.S. Senate.
We would not be surprised if by the next Democratic Senate Campaign Committee filing, Schumer – already poised to become Senate minority leader in 2017 because of his fundraising prowess and success electing more than a dozen Senate Democrats since 2006 – used McConnell’s threat to undermine the Constitution as leverage to raise millions of dollars to retake the Senate.
If Democrats win control of the Senate in November, it would mean that a liberal Jew from Park Slope, Brooklyn, with a lot of experience wielding the levers of power, would become the next majority leader and, possibly, a future presidential contender.
If Schumer manages this war as strategically and artfully as he can, he is poised to be one of the most powerful majority leaders since Lyndon B. Johnson.
Schumer will not be waging this battle alone. Cecile Richards at Planned Parenthood, the officers of every labor union and the leaders of every civil rights organization will be by his side dialing for dollars and organizing their troops because of the many controversial cases before the Supreme Court this term.
It’s a docket that could have been drawn up by the Koch brothers to overturn the principles we consider the bedrock of our democracy: one man, one vote; organized labor’s right to collect union dues; affirmative action at public universities; and the right to abortion.
And not only will Schumer be the general in this fight, as a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he will also be on the front lines.
As political junkies, we are like baseball fans eagerly anticipating the thunderous swing of a home run hitter – we can't wait to see Schumer come to bat.
Tom Allon is president of City and State. Eddie Borges writes about poverty, policy, and politics.