Back in 2008, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, led by Chuck Schumer, launched a series of inflammatory ads that accused Republican leader Mitch McConnell of inducing the recent economic meltdown with tax regulations, and then bailed out Wall Street. This infuriated McConnell, who believed that the attacks breached a pact by the two parties to not politicize the government rescue in the elections. Nonetheless, McConnell has been able to stay in office, but the relationship between the two men was tainted. McConnell is now the Senate majority leader, and Schumer is the Democratic leader-in-waiting. Now, the two politicians are going to have to learn how to resolve their political differences. Despite having served together for 16 years in the chamber, the two men have yet to develop any sort of a positive relationship.
In the upcoming Congress, however, Schumer is set to replace Sen. Harry Reid as the Democratic leader, meaning that he and McConnell will soon have to work with each other on a regular basis, on issues ranging from the Senate schedule to the country’s domestic foreign policy. This relationship could go a long way to deciding how effective the next President’s campaign agenda get accomplished, since it seems unlikely that either party is going to hold a filibuster-proof majority. Both McConnell and Schumer have a reputation for political “mischief”, as Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) described it. However, Alexander also points out that if the two men can keep that mischief down, then they have a good chance of being effective Senate leaders working together.
While it’s clear that the two men have little love for each other, they’re both relatively nonideological pragmatists who would be interested in making a deal. According to senators from both political parties, this has the potential to bode well for future productivity. Nonetheless, the two men could hardly be more different in how they operate. Schumer charges through the Senate, speaking loudly about an array of issues and schmoozing with colleagues at the gym and first floor of the chamber. McConnell, on the other hand, is laconic, reserved and calculating. He rarely reveals his next step, and doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about what his colleagues think about him.
Republicans have been growing increasingly frustrated with current Democratic leader Harry Reid, and are hoping that they’ll have a better relationship with Schumer. However, Schumer will still face numerous challenges, such as managing the needs of red-state Democrats. He’ll also have to fill out an effective leadership team, as Schumer has yet to make key decisions about his top lieutenants.
Despite McConnell’s easygoing attitude, his relationship with Schumer has only deteriorated in recent days, as McConnell has accused Democratic leaders of wanting to “paint” their offices and “fatten” the IRS instead of funding military equipment and giving pay raises to troops. In response, Schumer has accused McConnell of failing at working with the other side. This is, of course, nothing new, with most of this stemming from the nasty 2008 campaign. It ultimately took more than two years to discuss the matter; during a negotiation over Senate rules in 2011, Schumer informed McConnell that he wasn’t responsible for the content in the ads. While McConnell says that he’s moved on from the issue, he hasn’t forgotten about it, and it remains to be seen how he and Schumer will work together going forward.