Schumer elected Senate Dem leader, sets leadership team

Greg Nash

Democratic senators on Wednesday elected Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) to replace retiring Sen. Harry Reid (Nev.) as their leader.

Schumer told reporters Wednesday that one of his top priorities will be to sharpen his party’s economic message, which fell flat in several battleground states won last week by President-elect Donald Trump. 

{mosads}“We needed a much sharper, bolder, stronger economic message. And we needed to let the American people understand what we believe, that the system’s not working for them. And we’re going to change it,” he said. 

One of Schumer’s first acts as leader was to expand the Senate Democratic leadership team by recruiting three new members and selecting two women to serve in senior positions. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who exceeded expectations in the Democratic presidential primaries and carried two Rust Belt states, Michigan and Wisconsin, that Hillary Clinton lost on Election Day, will become the leadership’s new chairman of outreach

Sanders said in a statement that he will work on organizing grassroots activism around the country on behalf of progressive principles.

“Real change doesn’t take place on Capitol Hill. It takes place in grassroots America,” he said. “It takes place when millions of working people, young people and senior citizens come together to demand that our government works for all of us and not just the 1 percent.”

Schumer selected Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.) to serve as assistant Democratic leader, a newly created position that makes her the third-ranking member of the leadership. 

And he chose Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) to chair the Democratic Policy and Communications Center, which is in charge of coordinating the floor and messaging strategies.

Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) was reelected as Senate Democratic whip but saw his job description change as he relinquished the role of assistant Democratic leader to Murray. 

There was speculation throughout the 114th Congress that Murray would challenge Durbin for the whip’s job, but she didn’t want to fight him for the role, aides said.

Instead, Murray had periodic conversations with Schumer to express her interest in helping the leadership team in whatever way she could. If Schumer decided to call for a new whip, she could have filled the role, but ultimately Schumer — a former housemate of Durbin’s — decided to avoid infighting in the caucus. 

Durbin aggressively rounded up support from colleagues to keep the whip’s job after it became clear that Schumer had locked up enough backing to succeed Reid. 

The other two additions to the leadership team are Sen. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), who is openly gay, and Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), one of the most centrist members of the Democratic conference. 

Baldwin will serve as Senate Democratic Conference secretary, while Manchin will serve as vice chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Center.

Democrats said the expansion of the leadership team means that Schumer plans to have a more inclusive leadership style than Reid. 

“The expansion of the team reflects that Chuck is going to be a much more inclusive leader. Harry kept a tight circle of advisers. Chuck’s circle is going to be bigger,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

“Adding Manchin and Sanders doesn’t give you a hint of what policy direction the caucus is heading in; it just tells you that Chuck is going to listen to a lot of people,” he added. 

Schumer must still find someone to replace Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.) — who faces reelection in 2018 — as Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman in the next election cycle.

It will be a tough job, as Democrats have to defend 25 seats, including seats in GOP-leaning states such as Indiana, Montana, Missouri, North Dakota and West Virginia, in 2018.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Mark Warner (Va.), who served as policy advisers to the leadership in the 114th Congress, have been given new titles. They will serve as vice chairs of the Senate Democratic Conference.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) will see her job description change. She served as chairwoman of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee in the 114th Congress. Her new title is chairwoman of the Steering Committee, a reflection of Schumer’s decision to put Sanders in charge of outreach.

Schumer’s election will bring to an end Reid’s 12-year tenure as Senate Democratic leader. He took over after his predecessor, Sen. Tom Daschle (S.D.), lost his seat to Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.).

–This report was updated at 7:24 p.m.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Charles Schumer Chris Murphy Debbie Stabenow Dick Durbin Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Harry Reid Hillary Clinton Joe Manchin John Thune Jon Tester Mark Warner Patty Murray Tammy Baldwin
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