A look behind the scenes at how Durbin, Schumer settled succession question

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WASHINGTON – Sometime after 2 a.m. Friday, as the Senate was wrapping up a marathon session – the last vote came at 3:19 a.m. – Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., was told by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid D-Nev., that he will not seek another term in 2016.

Durbin, the No. 2 Democratic leader – a position known as the “whip” — then sought out Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who has the No. 3 slot.

According to a Durbin aide, the Illinois senator told Schumer – and I am paraphrasing — ‘I am not going to run for leader. I will support you and I want to be the whip.”

In short order, Reid set in motion a chain of events whereby Schumer leapfrogged over Durbin and is poised to succeed Reid. At the same time, Durbin is positioned to remain the whip.

The deal avoids a Durbin and Schumer leadership fight and for a practical matter discourages others from making their own bids. Settling early the succession question takes away what could have been a massive distraction among Senate Democrats given that Reid will not vacate his post until January 2017, when the next Congress gets sworn in.

Reid, 75, who was injured on New Years Day while exercising, said in a statement Friday morning, “But this accident has caused Landra and me to have a little down time. I have had time to ponder and to think. We’ve got to be more concerned about the country, the Senate, the state of Nevada than about ourselves. And as a result of that I’m not going to run for re-election.”

Shortly after that, Reid told a few reporters in the Capitol that he wanted Schumer to succeed him.

Durbin’s office meanwhile said in a statement that not only did Schumer have his support to be the next leader, “Durbin intends to run again for whip and has Senator Reid’s support. He’s been speaking with senators this morning.”

An aide to Durbin said that Schumer would support Durbin remaining in the whip post. Schumer’s spokesman said, “He is only focused on the leader job.”

Schumer and Durbin, who are friends, shared a frat-like Capitol Hill row house for decades until a few months ago – some thought the better to keep an eye on each other.

Durbin, 70, was elected to the Senate in 1996. He served in the House from 1983 to 1997. Schumer, 64, was elected to the Senate in 1998. He served in the House from 1981 to 1999.

For years, the brash Schumer and his team have moved aggressively to try to nail down the leadership spot when it opened up. Durbin never encouraged stories trying to whip up a Schumer/Durbin rivalry.

Both Durbin and Schumer have accumulated a lot of Senate chits: They each have raised millions of dollars in campaign cash to help elect Democratic senators.

Durbin is often the face of the Senate Democrats, a regular on the Sunday morning shows. He often has the assignment of making floor speeches explaining complex policy in plain language.

Schumer is chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Center, the outfit working on Senate Democratic messaging.

Durbin is a consumer crusader – last year taking on Walgreens for contemplating relocating its suburban Chicago headquarters overseas. Schumer is friend of Wall Street.

The new united Schumer-Durbin front would appear to block other ambitious Democratic senators who may be contemplating moving up. Those rising in the ranks include Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

Progressive organizations jumped in right away, pushing Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., but that was never in the cards. Warren is a member of the Senate Democratic leadership team, as is Murray, who may be in play to take over the No. 3 spot.

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