Who is Chuck Schumer?

Get to know New York’s most powerful senator.

Who is Chuck Schumer?

Who is Chuck Schumer? Alex Law/City & State

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer made history yesterday, when he became the first Senate majority leader from the state of New York as well as the first Jewish person to hold the position.

Unfortunately for Schumer, the same day it was announced he would become majority leader, a mob of Trump supporters decided to rush the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to prevent President Joe Biden’s election results from being certified.

While his big moment may have been rudely interrupted by insurrectionists hoping to dismantle the U.S. government, Schumer now holds one of the most important and powerful roles in the Senate. As majority leader, Schumer will have the power to speak on behalf of Senate Democrats as well as schedule debate on legislation.

The senator’s new position could also prove beneficial for New York’s finances, as he could allocate more federal funding for his home state, as has been the tradition amongst Senate majority leaders in the past. While acting as Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell was able to deliver about $1 billion in federal aid to his home state of Kentucky in 2019 following his reelection.

New York could lose a predicted $59 billion in tax revenues through 2022 because of the coronavirus pandemic, and it is in dire need of cash. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been hopeful that the state’s fiscal crisis could be solved, in part, with additional federal funding. Biden has already stated that he will be providing New York with $2 billion in federal aid that had been blocked by Trump.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is also facing financial hardships due to a significant dip in ridership during the pandemic, could also be helped by a Schumer-led Senate. The MTA is facing an anticipated deficit of $8 billion from 2022 through 2024. The authority has discussed cutting back its already reduced service, but with Schumer at the helm, it may be saved from doing so. “Having him as leader of the chamber would be a benefit to the millions and millions of people in New York and across the country who rely on mass transportation,” Patrick Foye, chair and CEO of the MTA, told The New York Times.

Getting personal

How it all began

Charles EllisSchumer, better known as Chuck these days, was born in Brooklyn, in 1950. His father had an extermination business, while his mother was a housewife.

Schumer was known for being the smartest kid in his high school and was even named valedictorian. While in high school, Schumer worked for Stanley Kaplan, who created the Kaplan Test Prep service, which helps prepare students for college entrance exams. He credited Kaplan for helping him achieve a perfect SAT score.

He attended Harvard University – where he “caught the bug” for politics after one of his peers asked him to help campaign for Eugene McCarthy – and Harvard Law School. Upon getting his law degree, he immediately jumped into the world of local politics before going national. Interestingly, Schumer has never lost a political race in his career since first running for an Assembly seat in 1974.

Schumer has also earned a reputation for being a workhorse, spending all of his time and energy on his job, whether he’s making calls to his peers and constituents on his flip phone or making press appearances. “I don’t think anyone can outwork Chuck Schumer,” Marty Russo, a former Democratic representative from Illinois, told The New Yorker in 2017.

Schumer married Iris Weinshall in 1980, and the pair have two children. Weinshall, who is the chief operating officer of the New York Public Library, has had her own storied career in New York, having previously worked as the commissioner of the city’s Transportation Department under Mayor Rudy Giuliani and as a vice chancellor of the City University of New York. Chuck is also famously related to raunchy stand-up comedian Amy Schumer.

Career politician

A timeline of Schumer’s career

  • 1974: Elected to the New York Assembly shortly after graduating from Harvard University Law School at the age of 23.
  • 1980: Elected to Congress from New York’s 16th Congressional District
  • 1998: Elected to the U.S. Senate – at the start of his first term he announced that he would begin visiting all 62 of New York’s counties each year.
  • 2016: Schumer is named Senate minority leader, making him the first senator from New York to hold that position.
  • 2021: Schumer becomes the first New Yorker to be named Senate majority leader.

Meet the Baileys

Schumer’s policies and political stances

While Schumer’s politics have begun to lean more to the left in recent years, he’s known for most of his career as a moderate Democrat. His political strategy has for the most part been aimed at middle-class voters, since campaigning for a seat in the Senate in the late 1990s.

To gauge how these voters might react to a policy or political stance, he consults with Joe and Eileen Bailey. A made-up patriotic, church-going, Long Island couple who feels like the government spends too much time focusing either on the super poor or super rich. Schumer detailed how and why he invented this couple in his book “Positively American,” along with why he still looks to them as his political North Star. “Today, wherever I go, they are always at my side,” Schumer wrote in his book, arguing that Democrats should try to appeal more to the middle class.

The policies and legislative packages that Schumer has introduced over the years, including gun control measures, women’s rights and consumer protections, have tended to appeal to more moderate Democrats. Schumer also helped secure federal aid for many after 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy. And in 2013, Schumer along with a group of powerful Republican and Democrat senators, who were given the moniker “Gang of Eight,” teamed up to create sweeping immigration reforms to help make citizenship more attainable to thousands of immigrants – but the package ultimately did not pass.


Schumer’s fundraising superpower

Schumer is known for being one of the best fundraisers in the Senate – both for himself and for others. Critics on the left have criticized Schumer’s pool of donors, many of whom have hailed from the financial, real estate, banking and tobacco industries, for making him more deferential to them. In November of 2009, Politico reported that more than 15% of all Wall Street’s political donations that year had ended up going to Schumer, which is why he’s been called “the senator from Wall Street.”

Regardless, Schumer remains one of the most gifted and dogged fundraisers in politics, someone who feels that a “‘no’ is the first step to ‘yes.’” The senator even reaped thousands of dollars of donations from President Donald Trump and his family, but this was long before Trump became president. In 2019, the Senate Majority PAC, which is tied to Schumer, raised a record $61 million.

Schumer makes the rounds

Visiting every New York county

Since he was first elected to the Senate, Schumer has visited each of New York’s 62 counties every year. “I’ve found that a lot of people in New York see the Senate as a faraway place that doesn’t hear their concerns,” Schumer said in a 1999 press release. “I want to bring the Senate to New Yorkers, and take New York’s concerns back to the Senate.”

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020 the senator still managed to visit every one of the state’s counties for the 22nd straight year. However, due to health concerns, Schumer opted for smaller one-on-one meetings rather than meetings with larger groups.

Aside from visiting each county, Schumer is also known for being the “man who invented the Sunday press conference" and holding oddly specific press briefings throughout the state on subjects like robocalls, canned wine and Greek yogurt.