WASHINGTON ― Democrats chose Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) to helm their caucus in the Senate Wednesday, making him the first Jewish leader to head a party in Congress.
Schumer, who first won election to the House of Representatives in 1980, has served in the Senate since 1998, and has risen steadily in the ranks. He shepherded the Democrats into the majority in 2006 when he led the party’s campaign committee. Republicans won back control in 2014.
He was long a top adviser to retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), and his ascension to Reid’s post Wednesday indicates that his members still have confidence in his strategic acumen despite the setbacks of 2014 and this year, which saw the remarkable rise of Donald Trump.
“I am humbled and honored by the trust and confidence my colleagues have placed in me and proud to introduce this leadership team,” Schumer said Wednesday. “I am going to wake up every single day focused on how Senate Democrats can effectively fight for America’s middle class, and those struggling to make it.”
He also rolled out a lineup of other Democratic leaders, notably naming Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Mark Warner (Va.), a centrist, as vice chairs of the caucus.
Schumer said that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been added to the leadership team as the chair of outreach, a new position. One of the more conservative senators added to the leadership is Joe Manchin (W.Va.), who will be the vice chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, working with the chair, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.).
Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) will remain as minority whip, and Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.) will move into Schumer’s old No. 3 slot as the assistant Democratic leader.
The lineup of moderates and liberals suggests Schumer is not inclined to go all in on progressive policies championed during Sanders’ presidential run, but is more likely to pick and choose issues to appeal to base Democratic voters and the sorts of Americans who abandoned the party for Trump. He’s also willing to work with the president-elect in select areas.
“As Democrats determine our way forward, I can tell the American people this: We are ready to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Republicans ― working with soon-to-be President Trump on issues where we agree ― but we will go toe-to-toe against the President-elect whenever our values or the progress we’ve made is under assault,” Schumer said.
The timing of Schumer’s own rise becomes more significant against the backdrop of Trump, whose campaign was marred and fueled in part by raw anti-Semitism that most Americans had not seen in decades.
Reid advised his party members Tuesday to work with Trump where they can, but to stand firm in denouncing racist, bigoted statements and policies.
Schumer is likely to do both, and many see him as precisely the right man for the job.
Some liberals, however, think Schumer’s penchant for deal-making and power-brokering make him inherently unsuited as a leader in a time when voters just thoroughly rejected another establishment senator from New York in the form of Hillary Clinton.
They see him as too closely tied to the failed strategies of the last two elections, and too intricately bound up in Wall Street and the financial industry. Some opponents have called for Warren or Sanders to step to the fore, although they have not advanced themselves for the job.
For her part, Warren offered Schumer a strong endorsement.
“For years, Sen. Schumer has been out on the front lines fighting for Democrats,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “His leadership has strengthened our caucus and our party, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with him in his new role as Democratic Leader next Congress.”
Here are the Democrats who will be the ranking members of committees for the 115th Congress:
Agriculture: Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.)
Armed Services: Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.)
Appropriations: Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.)
Banking: Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio)
Budget: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Commerce: Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.)
Energy: Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.)
Environment & Public Works: Sen. Tom Carper (Del.)
Finance: Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.)
Foreign Relations: Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.)
Health, Education, Labor & Pensions: Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.)
Homeland Security: Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.)
Indian Affairs: Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.)
Judiciary: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.)
Rules: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.)
Small Business: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.)
Veterans Affairs: Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.)
Aging: Sen. Bob Casey (Pa.)
Ethics: Sen. Chris Coons (Del.)
Intelligence: Sen. Mark Warner (Va.)
Joint Economic Committee: Sen. Martin Heinrich (N.M.)
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the dates that Schumer was elected to the House and Senate.