WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who moved quickly on Friday to become the next Democratic leader, already figures in a controversy. The way it looks to me, he seems to be backing down from a deal with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
That jeopardizes a smooth transition, especially since the on-ramp is so long. Democratic senators next hold their leadership elections in January 2017.
At issue are the details of a deal Schumer and Durbin made on the Senate floor very early Friday morning, as the Senate was wrapping up a marathon session.
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., told Durbin, who was on the Senate floor, he would not run for another term in 2016.
Durbin holds the No. 2 leadership job — called the “whip” — and Schumer has the No. 3 spot. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is the No. 4 leader.
Durbin was Schumer’s main rival to replace Reid.
As I reported on Friday, a Durbin aide said that Durbin immediately went to Schumer on the Senate floor and told him he would support him — and that he wanted to remain as whip. The Durbin aide said that Schumer agreed to back Durbin. That was the deal.
Soon afterward, Durbin publically announced his support for Schumer.
Schumer swiftly rounded up the support of all the Senate Democrats, making him the leader-in-waiting, leapfrogging over Durbin.
On Monday, Politico came out with a story headlined, “Dick Durbin vs. Patty Murray? The Washington senator isn’t ruling out a run for Democratic whip.”
The Politico story said, “Murray is refusing to rule out a run to be the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, a position Durbin wants to keep in the next Congress.”
The article, quoting a person close to Schumer, said regarding the Durbin-Schumer deal, “It never happened, and they know it.”
Durbin spokesman Ben Marter told me on Tuesday, “The two senators agreed to support each other and shook hands on it. That’s what a deal is.”
On Friday, a Schumer spokesman told me that Schumer was just focusing on his own leadership contest. On Tuesday, a person close to Schumer told me, “The Durbin thing never happened.”
Murray’s office did not respond to a request for a comment.
Schumer and Durbin are friends. They shared a Capitol Hill townhouse for 22 years.
Durbin is in Berlin this week, traveling to Germany for an Aspen Institute program.