WASHINGTON -- The Senate Democrat's push to revamp the rules of the chamber in the days and weeks ahead will provide one of the earliest indications of the elevated leadership role Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is playing within the party.
In mid-November, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a plan to overhaul the leadership's structure in the next Congress by giving expanded messaging responsibilities to Schumer.
The New York Democrat, known for his political acumen and sharp sound bites, had kept largely quiet heading into the 2010 elections, owing to his own (largely un-remarked upon) re-election contest. Removed from that process, he became more publicly involved during the debate over the expiring Bush tax cuts. But his unique imprint on party messaging seems likely to be felt fully and strongly during the forthcoming efforts to revamp the rules of the Senate.
According to several sources on and off the Hill -- including those in leadership and those lobbying Congress on filibuster reform -- Schumer has been given, in essence, the final say over what package Democrats will introduce on January 24. This is, in part, because he has served as chair of the Senate Rules Committee but it also is a byproduct of his larger leadership role in the caucus.
"Schumer is going to be critical in all of this and whatever he puts his stamp of approval on is the one the caucus will coalesce around," said one operative pushing rules reform.
Schumer's office did not return an immediate request for comment.
There are other Senators who will have large input. Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) are all are expected to push individual reforms to the Senate rules as the chamber opens session this Wednesday and (using parliamentary procedures) continues that "first-day" debate until late January. Schumer, in turn, will have to weigh the merits and viability of those suggestions, cognizant that he could lose support if a package of reforms is watered down towards ineffectiveness. To date, nearly 200,000 signatures have been garnered from activists calling for broad rules changes, including roughly 105,000 signatures from CREDO, 22,000 from Sierra Club, 22,000 from Common Cause, and 39,000 from Daily Kos.
"There are multiple tracks here," said one Democratic Senate aide. "There are reformers making a big push and then leadership will come in with some sort of rules compromise."
The New York Democrat is, it should be noted, as much of a pragmatist as a political practitioner. And his involvement in the rules reform negotiations suggests two likely outcomes for the process: that something will actually get done and that it could fall a bit short of the most far-reaching suggestion. According to aides, Schumer has been in conversations with his rules committee counterpart, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) about what reforms may be able to garner Republican support.
UPDATE: Schumer Spokesman Brian Fallon sends over the following statement:
"Senator Schumer believes that decisions as important as this should be made by the entire caucus. That is especially true in this case because it would take at least 51 votes to pass anything."
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