MyDD Interview with Chuck Schumer
by Jonathan Singer, Mon Feb 05, 2007 at 03:13:19 AM EST
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.]