Now majority leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer explains plans for the nation, NY and impeachment
Joseph SpectorNew York State Team0:436:43
ALBANY – When Sen. Chuck Schumer talks about his new role as Senate majority leader, he weaves in how he will proceed with articles of impeachment against former President Donald Trump with how he hopes to bring more high-tech companies to Utica.
Schumer, a Democrat, has always prided himself on balancing his national role with his state responsibilities, never seemingly finding a local issue too small to take on or a place to visit for one of his well-known Sunday press conferences.
Now as one of the most powerful people in the nation, the new majority leader ticks off a lengthy list of goals he has for New York, the nation and, of course, moving forward with an historic impeachment trial of ex-President Donald Trump.
“When I work on these packages, New York is always on my mind,” Schumer said in an interview with the USA TODAY Network New York. “And I’ve always tried to craft them with whatever influence I have to help New York.”
His influence is now at the height of a 45-year career in politics, and there is much riding on what he can achieve, both for his home state and the nation. He is New York’s first Senate majority leader.
He will have to carefully wade through the impeachment trial that would need Republican votes to be successful.
First, however, he will look to reach a deal with President Joe Biden, Republicans and the Democratic-led House on a $1.9 trillion stimulus package to revive the nation’s economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also has to guide the confirmation of Biden’s cabinet members in advance of the Feb. 9 start of the impeachment trial, a date he brokered with Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell in the evenly divided Senate.
“My highest priority as leader is to get more COVID relief than we have now,” Schumer said.
“This is the worst economic crisis in 75 years since the Great Depression. It is the worst health care crisis in a century, since the Spanish pandemic flu. So it’s a huge crisis, and the federal government has stepped up to the plate, but they’ve got to do more.”
Balancing needs in New York and the nation
For fellow Democrats, the expectations are endless for Schumer, 70, the Brooklyn native who was first elected to the state Assembly at 23 in 1975.
Democrats want Trump’s impeachment trial to result in him never being able to run for office again. Progressives want a robust stimulus package and passage of their long-sought agenda, such as canceling student loan debt, because Democrats have full control of Washington for the first time in a decade.
Schumer also wants to aid Biden’s bid for $1,400 stimulus checks for the middle class.
Back home, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is leading a charge among governors for a $350 billion bailout for states and local governments whose budgets were wrecked by COVID’s devastation of their economies.
New York wants $15 billion, plus billions more for New York City and the nation’s largest transit system that has seen ridership and revenue plummet during the pandemic.
All states want a piece of any pot of aid, and Schumer will have to negotiate how it is split. Efforts for state bailouts failed with the Republican-controlled Senate.
“I pushed Biden to get the number up, and I told him I would not support a bill unless it had very strong state and local direct aid component, and President Biden graciously agreed,” Schumer said.
Another priority: repealing a $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions, called SALT, that Republicans put into law in 2017. The measure hurts wealthier, mainly blue states with higher taxes.
Northeast governors have railed against the SALT cap and unsuccessful sued to have it tossed.
“Senator Schumer,” Cuomo implored him in a speech Jan. 19, “state and local deductions are bedrock, middle-class deductions that help steady the cost of many middle-class families.”
Schumer, a moderate Democrat, will continue to face pressure from his left. There is the specter of progressive leader Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez potentially running n a primary against him in 2022.
Issues big and small for Schumer
Then there are all the infrastructure projects that Schumer said he hopes to push through as majority leader.
They range from widening Route 17 in the Hudson Valley to developing tech hubs in struggling upstate cities, like Utica, Syracuse and Rochester.
“New York can be a real center of semiconductor manufacturing, which is good, high-paying jobs and spins off other jobs,” Schumer said.
There’s the big infrastructure projects, too — none larger the $12 billion Gateway tunnel under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey.
Schumer is hopeful that the project, which already has much of the money secured, could get off the shelf in a Biden administration. It stalled under Trump, despite Trump being a native New Yorker.
Despite their New York City roots, Trump and Schumer clashed.
The Gateway project is viewed as critical to replacing the current, ailing tunnels between the states and would be the largest construction job in the nation.
“A good chunk of the money is already there. We just have to light a fire and have them move it quickly,” Schumer of the new Biden administration, which has expressed support for Gateway.
Of course all of these initiatives come with big price tags that Republicans have been reluctant to embrace.
What the nation doesn’t need are “more entitled ‘progressives’ thinking that someone else will always pay their bills, while hardworking taxpayers— many of whom didn’t even go to college themselves or already paid their debts — get short shrift,” state GOP chairman Nick Langworthy warned in a fundraising email right after the November elections.
And bad blood with some Republicans after last year’s bruising elections won’t go away soon.
“What bothered me the most about the type of campaign Chuck ran against me is that he attacked my integrity,” Maine Sen. Susan Collins told CNN. “He actually ran an ad that called me corrupt and made it look like I was pocketing campaign contributions.”
Girding for impeachment
Then there is Schumer’s most high-profile lift: pursing the Trump impeachment, which for a conviction would require a two-thirds majority of the Senate in the evenly divided chamber.
On Monday night, U.S House prosecutors walked the article of impeachment to the Senate for the second time since Trump took office, setting the stage for a trial to begin Feb. 9.
Schumer said the impeachment comes down to three points for him.
First, the Senate has a legal obligation to move forward after the House voted for impeachment, making Trump the first president to be impeached twice.
Second, he believes, is Trump should not be able to run for office again, which a Senate impeachment could ensure. If the Senate can get the 67 votes to impeach Trump, it could then vote again with a simple majority to ban him from running again in 2024.
“If the president is convicted, it would take 51 votes to say he can’t run for office again, and given what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6, he should not be able to run for office again,” Schumer said of the riot at the Capitol.
“This was one of the most heinous crimes ever committed in the United States, and he encouraged it.”
And lastly for Schumer, he believes impeachment would actually unify the country, which opponents say would do just the opposite.
“To heal America, you have to have some accountability,” he said. “You can’t just sweep something like this under the rug. It’ll fester.”
Joseph Spector is the Government and Politics Editor for the USA TODAY Network’s Atlantic Group, overseeing coverage in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. He can be reached at JSPECTOR@Gannett.com or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany
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