MyDD Interview with Chuck Schumer

On Thursday morning I was invited to the office of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, to speak with him on a range of issues. The following is the rush transcript of my interview, which is available in streaming form and downloadable .mp3 from Odeo (though I have not been able to clear the technical hurdle of embedding their player on MyDD yet, which I hope to do soon).

This is the first of four interviews from my trip to DC for the DNC's winter meetings last week that I will post on consecutive mornings this week, with the series continuing tomorrow with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Now, the interview:

Chuck Schumer: So, it's nice to meet you. I read your stuff. I enjoy it.

Jonathan Singer: It's a real pleasure also.

Schumer: We don't have too much time because they called a vote.

Singer: No problem. The map looks good -

Schumer: Let me just start out, one thing, to let the blogosphere know. I think what the blogosphere did in 2006 was incredibly great, particularly with Webb and Tester. We intend to work really closely with the blogosphere in this cycle. In fact next month we're going to have our first online chat where we ask people for suggestions. And here's what's so important: The map is an interesting map. In a sense it's good; we have 12 Democrats and 21 Republicans and we're feeling good about the 12 Democrats who are incumbents. But the 21 Republicans by and large come from very tough states. You have very few deeply blue states. Last time we had Pennsylvania, which was a pretty blue state, and Rhode Island, which was a very blue state. We don't have many of those this time. New Hampshire is slightly blue, Maine is a little more blue, Oregon is slightly blue, Minnesota is slightly blue. But none of them you'd call more than 52 percent Democratic states.

So we've got to find candidates all over. And this is where the blogosphere excels. There may be somebody, a state Rep. or even not, in Alabama who might be a very good candidate. So we intend to have a good, close relationship and work together the way we did, sort of, towards the end last time. The sort of M.O. last time was the netroots community found the candidates, more or less, then we helped them later on in the race, Webb, Tester would be the two classics. But I think it's going to be more close - I know it's going to be more close this year.

Singer: So do you have a general philosophy for primaries, first a) whether you would rather see a race that only has one Democrat in it, and then b) in the case of a primary what are the types of metrics you're going to look for, and among them is it going to be if they have strong support on the web, etc.?

Schumer: Strong support on the web certainly makes a big difference because it makes them a stronger candidate. We went pretty well last time by having as our lodestar winning. Democrats around the country had said, "When are you finally going to win?" So we implemented. And sometimes it got certain people upset. But having 51 seats is a heck of a lot better than having 45 or 49. But I'll tell you, having 55 seats is a heck of a lot better than having 51, especially how the Senate works.

So our basic lodestar is going to be, let's win. There's no set rule. We didn't have a set rule. Primaries are not necessarily bad, particularly if the Democrats don't attack one another. Early on we did endorse Webb in Virginia before the primary was over, but early on we just said to the candidates, "Don't attack one another. That would incline us to go on the other side."

Singer: Looking at specific races, the one that seems to be developing the most quickly is Colorado.

Schumer: We're feeling very good about Colorado.

Singer: What do you see there?

Schumer: At the moment, Udall seems to have pretty much the support of the Colorado Democratic community, including the Netroots community - the stuff I have seen has been quite positive - and they may well have a primary between the anti-choice and the moderately anti-choice wing of the Colorado party. The fact that Dobson is in that state pulls them to the right and that's fine with us.

One other thing I just want to say here. One of our criteria, which I helped adopt, aside from winning is focus of the middle class. We thought our best candidates were those who were able to talk to the average voters, not to the media, not to the interest groups, not to the lobbyists.

I just wrote a book called "Positively American." It's relevant to our conversation, saying winning back the middle class majority one family at a time. And it talks about how we can not abandon traditional Democratic beliefs but add on new things; we propose 11 goals that we promise the middle class we'll achieve in 10 years that will expand our coalition and not make it a 51 percent coalition but a 60 or 65 percent coalition and have Democrats be the majority party for a generation. So that's a second criterion.

Singer: I know you've talked about 2006 being a campaign in which Democrats ran against Iraq, against Bush, against the economy, 2008 being a campaign in which Democrats are running for something.

Schumer: And that's what the book attempts to do.

Singer: I want to ask you, you said or were quoted as saying that you think that Iraq will not be as central of an issue. I was wondering if you could maybe clarify that statement.

Schumer: Here's what I think. I think the President has so messed up Iraq. We'll do everything we can to stop this surge. If we can stop it - or if we can't, even - and we're going to try, but remember he can veto, so 67 votes is a hard thing to do. And I'm not talking about the non-binding resolution. I believe strongly that we have to go further and have something that really ratchets up the pressure on the President and has real teeth. I think this does have some teeth, in terms of public pressure, but I don't think it's the whole thing. We gotta go further.

Having said that, I think that Iraq is such a mess that the President himself, pressured by Republicans, is going to start pulling out troops by the beginning of 2008 because they're not accomplishing a darn thing. It's not helping in any way and it's an anchor tied to the foot of every Republican candidate.

Now I don't want it to be mistaken. If he doesn't pull out it will be a huge issue and we'll make it a huge issue. But I think we have to be prepared for the fact that it may well be that, forced by Republican pressure and just the total incompetence of what they've done - policing a civil war doesn't solve any problem in Iraq and doesn't solve any problem politically for them here at home - that it may be when November 2008 rolls around that there are half the troops or even less than half the troops we have now and they are on their way out.

Singer: I want to revisit another statement you said recently...

Schumer: But just one point. I don't want it to be mistaken. If they're still in Iraq we're going to fight it. It's not that... I read some of the comments on the blogs, they said, "Schumer's not being realistic. He just wants Iraq to go away." No. I mean I'd like to see an end to the war. But I'm just trying to be politically realistic. And I've always, particularly early in the game, look at the various scenarios that are out there for you.

Singer: Let me ask you a question not related to your role at the DSCC but rather in the conference, and that has to do with Iran. There is a strong feeling that the administration believes they have the ability through the authorization for force -

Schumer: That is absolutely wrong.

Singer: - 2001 and 2002 to go into Iran. What's your feeling? What will Democrats do?

Schumer: Iran was never discussed, and I could not imagine - maybe there are one or two Democrats in the Senate who believe the AUMF authorizes the President to go into Iran. Should he try to go into Iran without an AUMF will do everything we can to try to stop that.

Singer: And if he comes back and asks for one, let's say under the pretences of the what seems to be building tension, at least as he portrays it?

Schumer: I have always believed in foreign policy, particularly when your nation was attacked - not only my nation but my city was attacked - you tend to give the chief executive the benefit of the doubt to defend us. That doesn't mean a carte blanche. But you never give someone who has been so bad the second benefit of the doubt. I think anything the President asks for with Iran is going to be received with extreme dubiousness, certainly by me, by the Democratic Senate and by the American people. I mean he says there are weapons of mass destruction in Iran, people are going to think twice before believing it. If he says this is an immediate danger to the US, people are going to think twice before believing it. If he says military force is the only way to deal with this problem, people are going to thing 20 times before believing it.

Singer: Going back to DSCC stuff, you were - I believe it was in the Daily News - they quoted you or blind quoted you as saying that 11 of the 12 Democrats up for reelection have made commitments to you that they'll run for reelection. I just wanted to confirm that. Is that where the caucus stands today?

Schumer: We are optimistic and hopeful, put it this way, that all 12 Democrat incumbents will run again.

Singer: Of them, most political watchers would say that the most endangered potentially is Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, both because of the nature of the state over time - the direction of it - and specifically population shifts.

Schumer: I'm not going to pick who's the most endangered, who's the least endangered. We are going to back everyone of them up fully. And one rule I've always had - I had in 2006 - our first job is going to defend incumbents. More so now. Because even if, God forbid, we didn't pick up a single seat but we kept all the incumbents we'd still have a majority. So it's sort of gives you a little equanimity. But still, we're a group, DSCC... I'm the chair, but I have a constituency now of 50 other Senators. And we will defend every one of those 12 with everything we can, and I make a commitment to them - I've made it already to every one - you will not lose for lack of money or effort or focus from us.

And let me just say Mary is really doing well. She is working hard. She is delivering. She is out there when the White House doesn't do what it should for Louisiana. She is able to come up with novel legislative things that we all support because they're smartly thought up and we want to help Louisiana. She is doing very, very well. And thus far, while there is a lot of speculation, a candidate has not announced yet against her. And they would do so at their own peril. She's going to win again.

Singer: Given the presumption that the DNC and the RNC would more likely focus on [the] presidential race then on senatorial and congressional races, do you think that's a net plus or a net negative for your job?

Schumer: I have tried to think about that long and hard. You're certainly in more control in an off year because the Senate and House races are the top dogs, so to speak, and here we have a presidential candidate and we have competing resources, etc. But so far, at least in the calls I've made in both terms of fundraising, recruitment, help from the blogosphere, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. What we had to go up against in 2005 is, "Yeah, I help you all of the time and it doesn't do any good." No one's saying that this year. So it's a different set of problems. Do I worry about it? Think a lot about it? Try to compare how it's going to be different? Obviously. But will it be better or worse? The jury is still out.

[Cross-talk about time left in the interview]

Singer: Just want to ask you about Oregon, being from Oregon...

Schumer: We think that Gordon Smith is a vulnerable race. We want to find the best candidate. We are going to put a lot of focus in Oregon. It's a blue state and we're going to put a lot of focus. I think we can win Oregon.

Singer: Even though it didn't develop last time?

Schumer: Correct. I think there's a lot of interest among Democrats.

Singer: Last question. Today, Al Franken announced that he is intending to run in Minnesota. I was wondering...

Schumer: Smith and Coleman are similar in that they are at the top of our list in terms of vulnerable Republicans. If you look at the 21 Republican seats, I think only four or five are blue states, and they're two. Let's see. There's Oregon that's blue, Minnesota that's blue, New Hampshire that's slightly blue, Maine that's blue. Am I leaving anyone out? Four.

Singer: Colorado is blue-ing.

Schumer: Blue-ing, but it's not yet blue if you go by the 2004 criteria.

Singer: Terrific. Well, thank you so much.

Schumer: Hey, call any time. We can do some blogging together. I read your stuff, I enjoy your stuff, I appreciate your diligence and concern.

[THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.]

Tags: Chuck Schumer, DSCC, Interview, Senate 2008 (all tags)

Comments

24 Comments

Re: MyDD Interview with Chuck Schumer

Sorry, but not one question about how their boy lieberman who demonized Lamont on one issue and seems to be taking sides based on his gratitude to Bush on one issue regarding KAtrina and Iraq?
The Landrieu questions should have segued into the Lieberman-Katrina hearings even if one did not have the time to revisit the whole CT issue and Schumer probably will not answer the question for reasons of maintaining the senate majority. But it would be nice to get him on the record on Katrina hearings without having to mention Liebeman by name.

Good question getting Schumer to explain his Iraq War not being a crucial issue comment. All in all, this interview is a decent start. But it will be nice if bloggers got more access with Dem politicians. I see more cooperation among right wing politicians and right wing talk radio.

by Pravin 2007-02-05 03:41AM | 0 recs
Re: MyDD Interview with Chuck Schumer

I am hopeful that netroots successes such as the Webb and Tester candidacies will result in greater availability from democratic politicians.  Schumer mentioned it.  I take that as a good sign.  Over time we'll see whether he or any of the other democrats recognize the value of and enter into a partnership with the netroots.  

by lockewasright 2007-02-05 04:29AM | 0 recs
Re: Lieberman Question

In the limited amount of time I had I wanted to be as forward looking as possible rather than trying to rehash the past. In general, that's my M.O. Thanks for the input, though.

by Jonathan Singer 2007-02-05 05:47AM | 0 recs
Re: MyDD Interview with Chuck Schumer

He has to live with Joe Lieberman in the Senate every day.  If he doesn't get the object lesson at this point, then I sincerely doubt a question devoted to it will make one bit of difference.

We should look for ways to remind Dem leaders of mistakes at the moment they can effect future behavior-not at the first opportunity and every time thereafter.

We're working through that difficult balance in the Texas blogosphere right now, and I draw the line in a different place than some others do, but it's an important consideration. Wherever the line may be drawn.

by boadicea 2007-02-05 07:07AM | 0 recs
Re: MyDD Interview with Chuck Schumer

Katrina Hearings is a current issue. I did acknowledge later in my comment that maybe the issue could have been addressed without bringing up Lieberman by name. That is why I wished for more frequent access. This way, such questions could be brought up at some point instead of having  one interview try to ask all the burning questions on mind.

by Pravin 2007-02-05 09:53AM | 0 recs
I'm wary of Sen Schumer on some issues

   but he is a smart and tough politician. He also seems to realize that the blogs are a true form of grassroots participation.  The blogs did promote Tester and Webb early, strongly, and consistently . Sens Reid and Schumer seem happy to work with us now, but the real test will be some big policy fights down the road. Blogs have proven they can be extremely positive (2006 election) and extremely tough (Social Security ). These next few years should be very interesting.    

by MarvToler 2007-02-05 03:48AM | 0 recs
Thanks for the transcript

I think Schumer is awkward in conversation and interviews in a way that I associated with a certain breed of New Yorkers.   I particularly appreciate the question on Iran.  In my view, it mattered less what the specifics of the question were on Iran, than that Schumer was made aware through the question that the netroots is watching the Conference closely on this.

(Nice meeting you this weekend.)

by Jeffrey Feldman 2007-02-05 04:19AM | 0 recs
Let's go blogging with Chuck

kind of funny comment by Schumer. "We can blog together sometime"...wonder if that's on The Google ;).

Schumer's book is interesting, the 50% solution, a series of proposals for a Democratic platform such as cut US oil usage by 50%.

For some reason everybody is afraid of saying Iraq war and terrorism are due to US need for Middle East oil and our effort to secure those oil supplies by supporting oppressive dictatorships.

With so many politicians on both sides calling for cuts in US oil usage, it never seems to happen. Maybe Senator Schumer can blog about that.

by BrionLutz 2007-02-05 04:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's go blogging with Chuck

Maybe he meant liveblog?

by sayhar 2007-02-05 11:20AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's go blogging with Chuck

I'm sure he did but it sounded funny, like a parent trying to talk teenage to their kids.

by BrionLutz 2007-02-05 12:13PM | 0 recs
Re: MyDD Interview with Chuck Schumer

So this medium is new to many of our members of congress.  They will be inept at first:  "We can blog together sometime" .  Inept as it may be, it IS an effort to get involved with the netroots.  We have seen members of congress, mid-term candidates, and presidential candidates beginning to show up here and at other blogs and others making time to be interviewed by bloggers.  Webb's and Tester's election will increase the motivation for politicians to incorporate us into their careers.  Remember the use of the inter-tubes is a fairly young phenomenon and many of our members of congress are... well... not young.  I'm just glad to see that there is recognition on the part of many politicians that they cannot do it with out us anymore.

by lockewasright 2007-02-05 05:05AM | 0 recs
John Conyers - young at heart

and a pioneer when it comes to communicating with the netroots

Some people are born old, never learn a thing they don't have to, and lack curiousity

I'll give points to anyone that tries blogging;too many don't even make the effort.

by merbex 2007-02-05 05:19AM | 0 recs
Re: John Conyers - young at heart

I love Conyers!

by lockewasright 2007-02-05 05:21AM | 0 recs
Re: MyDD Interview with Chuck Schumer

Good interview.  Did he ever let you finish an entire question?

Sen. Schumer has a chance to really improve his perception in the blogosphere if he continues to show that he's aware of what's going on with the blogs and that he takes the feedback into account.

by Steve M 2007-02-05 05:45AM | 0 recs
Re: MyDD Interview with Chuck Schumer

A case can be made for a bunch of other Senate seats at least being highly competitive.  

Start out with New Mexico, a 50/50 state.  Pete Domenici has only $264,000 cash-on-hand and if Bill Richardon either runs for the seat or is on a national ticket as President or VP, that would help.  I don't want Domenici to retire as Heather Wilson would be a tougher opponent (that would hand over the House seat to us in NM-1).

Elizabeth Dole is aging, in bad health and has little cash ($223 K) and less fund-raising ability.  This is another race that has target written all over it.

John Warner is something like 81 and he sways in the wind taking every side on every issue before sorta backing Bush.  He's not a moderte, he's a wimp.  Mark warner would sweep the floor with him and others could also do the job.  He's got 732 but that is a lot less than Allen had going in.

Mr. Plaid Shirt, Lamar Alexander, has a limited bank account and this is still a competitive state on a Senate basis.  Will $258 K dissuade anybody from running?  Even in (hjope, hope) a dirty, nasty Republican primary.

Two longer shots who are personally vulnerable as all get out are Pat Roberts and Ted Stevens.  Stevens is ancient, can't bring home the bacon anymore, and is covered chest deep in scandal (see lobbyist son, Ben Stevens).   The Stevens wing of the GOP was thoroughly tossed out by Sarah Palin in the primary for Governor.  And Mr. Payola has only $170 K cash-on-hand.  Roberts covered up intelligence malfeasance, scandals, lies, etc.  More than anyone else in the Senate, his hands are covered in blood.  Kansas GOPers have been split of late and Sebellius is on the short l;ist as Democratic VP.  Roberts isn't quite poor but $682 K is not enough to gloss this over.  Once Democratic donors spell blood here, money will not be an issue.  We can sink this rat.

At this time in 2005, Democrats were afraid of losing Senate seats and we gained six in 2006.  There are certainly a lot of prospects there if we get our act together.    

by David Kowalski 2007-02-05 07:28AM | 0 recs
Forcing a vote on Iraq

IMO, Schumer is badly mistaken on the need to pass a binding resolution to end the war as soon as it reasonably can be done.  Withdrawal (including the 100,000 contractors in theatre) won't be an easy or quick.  It needs to start as soon as possible.  The war is lost. Everybody except Barney and Bush know this.  Even the defenders of escalation make it clear that this is a long shot, and that this is just an attempt to delay the inevitable conflagration. Not only will this not make the conflagration any less serious, but the escalation may well make it worse. That's what the Shiites were saying in today's NYT.

Leaving aside the substantive reason for getting out as soon as possible, it's politically stupid to not clearly hang the war around the republican necks.  In particular, the 21 R senators who are in Class II are in a lot of trouble.  Make them cast a vote. If they really are still so beholden  that they will vote with the president against the national interests, and against their party's interest, then they'll be very vulnerable. Even Warner.  Hell, even Ted Stevens.  This war is incredibly unpopular.  Make them own it, or get out.

By no means do I believe that a vote in May on removing troops in a six month timetable, and cutting off funds for 08 activity that is unrelated to withdrawal would lead to a sustained veto.  And if it does, all the Class II Senators who voted to sustain would have to be worried.

by jayackroyd 2007-02-05 07:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Forcing a vote on Iraq

I read Schumer as agreeing with you, actually.  I think his point was that he believes either Senate Democrats will suceed in stopping the war (whether by cutting off funding or some other mechanism), or failing that they will succeed in at least putting so much pressure on Bush that he has to begin withdrawing troops.  IF that happens, and that is a big if, I can see the argument that Iraq will not be as big an issue in 2008.  It is hard to run on a platform of bring the troops home when they are already on their way home.

The best political outcome (although the worst outcome in terms of human lives, etc), would be for Class II Republican Senators to vote to sustain a veto of a bill that would end the war.  I am sure that if that happens, the DSCC will not hesitate to bring that vote up 24/7.  

But we all desperately hope that in fact the troops will be on their way home before Nov 2008.

by TimSackton 2007-02-05 09:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Forcing a vote on Iraq

That's how I read it too.  

Really, it's a great time to be aggressively anti-war.  If Bush can be forced either legislatively or through pressure to bring the troops home then the democrats will get the credit for doing it.  If the Class II GOPers prevent it and we're still in this war in 2008 then they will look horrible for their votes.  I hope this Iraq tragedy is brought to an end as soon as possible, but politically it is the stance that matters.  Hard work towards ending Iraq will benefit democrats whether they succeed in ending the war or not.

by lockewasright 2007-02-05 09:58AM | 0 recs
Re: Forcing a vote on Iraq

I think the President has so messed up Iraq. We'll do everything we can to stop this surge. If we can stop it - or if we can't, even - and we're going to try, but remember he can veto, so 67 votes is a hard thing to do. And I'm not talking about the non-binding resolution. I believe strongly that we have to go further and have something that really ratchets up the pressure on the President and has real teeth. I think this does have some teeth, in terms of public pressure, but I don't think it's the whole thing. We gotta go further.

Having said that, I think that Iraq is such a mess that the President himself, pressured by Republicans, is going to start pulling out troops by the beginning of 2008 because they're not accomplishing a darn thing. It's not helping in any way and it's an anchor tied to the foot of every Republican candidate.

Now I don't want it to be mistaken. If he doesn't pull out it will be a huge issue and we'll make it a huge issue. But I think we have to be prepared for the fact that it may well be that, forced by Republican pressure and just the total incompetence of what they've done - policing a civil war doesn't solve any problem in Iraq and doesn't solve any problem politically for them here at home - that it may be when November 2008 rolls around that there are half the troops or even less than half the troops we have now and they are on their way out.

This is more ambiguous than his other statements. I heard him on Imus not saying the first part of this (We will try to get out) but only the second (They'll pull out on their own, anyway).

So I agree that your reading may be correct. But I think that may be an evolution views rather than a clarification, even if you are correct. The speed with which Senators have moved on the war in response, I assume, to constituent pressure and poll numbers is almost certainly affecting Schumer as well.

Schumer (and Clinton) have a tendency to duck tough issues.  He may be coming to realize that this is not a tough vote, but if so, he should stop talking about the inevitability of Republicans caving. Rather he should accelerate that cave.

by jayackroyd 2007-02-05 10:06AM | 0 recs
Re: Forcing a vote on Iraq

It may well be an evolution, but if so I think this a nice sign.  It speaks to the dynamic that Matt Stoller discussed in post right above this one.

The speed at which political realities have changed with regard to the Iraq war is, I think, not simply a response to the fact that the war is deeply unpopular.  It may also be because of the fact that Schumer sees a lot of critical remarks about him on blogs after he suggests that the Iraq war might not be so important in 2008 (whether at the time he was just being unclear or his views have changed perhaps doesn't matter so much).

by TimSackton 2007-02-05 10:43AM | 0 recs
Re: Forcing a vote on Iraq

Fair enough.

by jayackroyd 2007-02-05 10:54AM | 0 recs
Don't be on defense!

If we don't go on offense and target VA, NM, NC, OK, TX, GA, WY, KS, AL, MS, and KY in 2008 in addition to the obvious targets of CO, ME, NH, MN, and OR, we're not going to pick up more than one or two seats. We have to broaden the playing field. If we had put up a strong challenger in all 15 GOP states in 2006, we would have picked up another one or two seats in the Senate. Since the field is so to our advantage this year, it would be foolish not to put up a strong challenger in at least a dozen of the 21 GOP seats. We could potentially pick up five to eight seats this year if we recruit strongly.

by ahf8 2007-02-05 11:40AM | 0 recs
Re: MyDD Interview with Chuck Schumer

Sounds like Schumer really had his eyes opened during the last cycle.  He almost admits to screwing up by not backing some of our good candidates until late in the game; then he promises that in '08 the party will be there with the money from square one.  The Netroots needed a big win to get any credit, and now we have an establishment Dem who's forward-thinking enough to give it.  This is nothing but good news.  

by spatne 2007-02-05 05:47PM | 0 recs
No fiddiling in Primaires, please

I was surprised and somewhat angered by the notion that the DSCC thinks it's job is to protect incumbents from primary challenges (al la Mary Landrieu.)  The DSCC should support the democratic candidate 100% but shouldn't get involved in the primary.  Otherwise they are imposing their will on the Democrats of that state.

by David in Burbank 2007-02-08 11:12AM | 0 recs

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