WASHINGTON: It’s been a long eight months in the wilderness for Democrats, but if any two were going to find their way back to the action it was Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and his House counterpart, Nancy Pelosi. Or “Chuck and Nancy,” as President Donald Trump now calls them.
After the Republican-led Congress’ failure to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law, when Trump cracked open the door of bipartisanship, the two Hill veterans barged through full-force. They were looking for ways to “build some trust and confidence” with Trump, Pelosi, D-Calif., said in an interview Friday. The willingness to engage with a president reviled by their party worried liberals like Rep.
Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., who warned against “proceeding toward normalizing him.” But it surprised no one who’s watched Schumer and Pelosi’s combined 67 years of wheeling and dealing in Congress.
“Let’s put it this way, it doesn’t matter,” Pelosi said about whether she likes Trump following two meetings that yielded a budget deal and progress on immigration. She said she doesn’t know if Trump likes her, adding, “Right now, I want him to like the Dreamers,” the nickname for young immigrants the two Democrats and Trump aim to protect.
Schumer, D-N.Y., inadvertently shared his impression of the duo’s Wednesday parley with Trump, which moved an immigration agreement forward, catching uninvited Republican leaders flat-footed. At an open Senate microphone Thursday, Schumer said: “He likes us. He likes me, anyway.” He described warning Trump he’d be “boxed” if he only works with one party, adding, “He gets that.”
Both leaders’ comments were instructive. Pelosi, 77, who was the first female House speaker, is admired as a legislative tactician able to maximize minority Democrats’ strength and as a prodigious fundraiser. Underscoring her penchant for finding allies, Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said that when as governor in 2009, he called congressional leaders to discuss President Barack Obama’s pending health care bill – and only Pelosi called back.
Recounting the White House dinner that produced progress on immigration, the only woman among 11 people around the Blue Room’s rectangular table said she was responding to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross when “the others” interrupted. “I said, ‘Does anybody listen to women when they speak around here?'” Pelosi said Friday. But critics say that forcefulness also means Pelosi holds power too tightly, not consulting widely enough with junior lawmakers, and is part of an aging cluster of party leaders that’s frustrating younger, ambitious members.
Schumer, 66, has been Senate Democratic leader since January and is viewed by colleagues as a people person. He’s memorized senators’ telephone numbers, perhaps because of his flip phone’s limitations, and is known for emotional visits and calls with lawmakers who’ve experienced personal losses. Schumer has arranged dates for staffers and said this week that his life’s big gap was lacking grandchildren, of which Pelosi has nine.
The progressive end of the Democratic spectrum has shown wariness of Schumer, and thousands of liberals protested outside his Brooklyn apartment after Trump’s January inauguration. They demanded he aggressively oppose Trump’s appointees and agenda and accused him of being too close to the financial industry, which is centered in New York.
With Schumer’s saggy suits contrasting with Pelosi’s tailored wardrobe, the two leaders have known each other since serving in the House in the late 1980s. Then-Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., invited Pelosi to join a group of lawmakers who dined weekly and already included Schumer. Pelosi says she and Schumer now meet or speak “as necessary,” often daily. Pelosi’s four years as speaker began in 2007 and included two years under Obama that saw enactment of his health care law, an economic stimulus package and overhauled financial regulations.
She also produced legislation under President George W. Bush and Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, including a bank bailout, a revamping of how Medicare pays doctors and several budget deals. Schumer is still new on the national scene, and few GOP campaign ads have used him as a foil. Thanks to her high profile and unabashed liberal views, Republicans have starred Pelosi in thousands of spots to vilify Democrats.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm, says that in this spring’s special Georgia election for an open House seat, Pelosi was mentioned in 90 percent of the nearly 7,500 negative ads that helped defeat Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff. One by the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is aligned with GOP leaders, flashed pictures of Pelosi, liberal filmmaker Michael Moore and violent protesters opposing Trump’s inauguration as the announcer said, “Jon Ossoff is one of them.”
Pelosi is from Baltimore Democratic royalty, daughter of the city’s congressman and then mayor. She moved to her husband’s hometown of San Francisco and plunged into local politics, entering Congress in 1987 and leading House Democrats since 2003. She’s raked in hundreds of millions of dollars for candidates over the years, cementing loyalty from many colleagues.
But in a tea party-fueled backlash to the health care law and other big-spending measures, Republicans recaptured the House in the 2010 elections. Shoved back into the minority, handfuls of Democrats have tried ousting her ever since but fallen short.
“No one can deny that she’s an effective leader,” said Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., one dissident. Rice said “fair or not,” Republicans have painted Pelosi with a negative reputation that’s hurting Democrats’ efforts to win elections.
The son of a Brooklyn exterminator, Schumer attended Harvard after scoring nearly a perfect 1600 on college entrance exams. He credits a summer job with neighbor Stanley Kaplan, a test preparation industry pioneer.
At age 23, Schumer became the youngest member of the New York State Assembly since Theodore Roosevelt in the 1880s. He was elected to the House in 1980 and the Senate in 1998, climbing leadership ranks and leapfrogging into the top post over his one-time housemate in Washington, No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois.
Schumer helped write crime and gun control bills in the 1990s and aid for the New York region after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. He was among eight senators who pushed bipartisan immigration legislation through the Senate in 2013, and this year helped strike compromises temporarily financing government and slapping sanctions on Russia. – AP