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Reid backs Schumer for leader

By Alexander Bolton

Retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) is endorsing New York Sen. Charles Schumer to succeed him as Democratic leader.

His backing cements Schumer’s status as the strong favorite to replace Reid and might quash a possible leadership race.

“I think Schumer should be able to succeed me,” Reid told The Washington Post Friday.

Schumer’s aides and allies have long made clear that he would seek to replace Reid when he retired. They say he has broad support among his colleagues after helping to engineer the Democratic takeover of the Senate in 2006 and the filibuster-proof majority in 2008 during his stints as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).

Schumer, the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee chairman, is now the third-ranking member of Democratic leadership.

Reid told the Post he did not expect Schumer to face a challenge from Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), the second-ranking leader, and Conference Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.), who ranks fourth.

He praised Schumer as “extremely smart” but acknowledged the brash New Yorker would bring a “different style” to the job.

Reid and Durbin spoke by phone on Friday morning.

Schumer declined to comment on his ambitions Friday, instead releasing a statement praising Reid’s leadership.

“Harry is one of the best human beings I’ve ever met. His character and fundamental decency are at the core of why he’s been such a successful and beloved leader,” he said. “He has left a major mark on this body, this country, and on so many who have met him, gotten to know him, and love him.”

Durbin, who used to be housemates with Schumer, in recent years has shown less interest in replacing Reid. He largely avoids the spotlight compared to his New York colleague, who has inspired a standing joke that the most dangerous place in Washington is between Schumer and a television camera.

Murray could emerge as Schumer’s most viable rival for the top leadership spot, given her strong support among the women of the Democratic caucus and her record of political and policy accomplishments.

Senate Democrats picked up two seats in the 2012 election cycle when Murray served as DSCC chairwoman, beating expectations earlier in the cycle that the party would lose seats.

She brokered one of the biggest bipartisan compromises of the past several years in December 2013, when she and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) agreed to a budget deal that lifted spending caps for defense and nondefense programs, avoiding a government shutdown.

Reid’s comments Friday morning, however, dimmed the likelihood she would wage a challenge.

Murray thanked Reid for his mentorship in a statement Friday.

“I owe so much to Harry for everything he has done, and for everything he continues to do, to help me fight for my constituents and for families across the country,” she said.

“He has asked me to take on some tough jobs over the years, but I have always appreciated the trust he placed in me, the work he did to make sure I had the space I needed to get the job done, and the knowledge that, no matter what, Harry had my back and was going to fight for what was right,” she added.

If Murray decided to vie for Reid’s job, she could benefit from the argued need for geographical diversity in the Democratic leadership.

If Hillary Clinton wins the presidency in 2016 and Schumer becomes the next Senate Democratic leader, two of the party’s top leaders would have strong ties to New York and its financial services industry. Clinton represented the state in the Senate from 2001 to 2009.

Murray does not have a lock on Democratic women, however. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is a close ally of Schumer’s and would likely back him.

The White House said it wouldn’t get involved in the discussion of who should lead Senate Democrats, despite Obama’s close relationship with Durbin.

“It’s the responsibility of Democratic members of the Senate to decide,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Friday. “We’ll leave that up to them to decide.”

Schumer has taken a more active role in the day-to-day managing of party strategy and message as Reid’s deputy. He consulted with Reid several times a day, when the leader was forced to spend days at home earlier this year suffering from a serious eye injury he sustained while exercising on New Year’s Day.

Some liberal activists would like to see Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a darling of the left, succeed Reid as leader, and some groups are already pushing her to jump into the race.

“If Elizabeth Warren doesn’t run for president, she should run for leader of the Senate,” said Neil Sroka, communications director of Democracy for America. “The election for [the Senate’s] next Democratic leader shouldn’t be a slam dunk for any early front-runner, especially someone closer to Wall Street while the Wall Street wing of the party is dying and the Elizabeth Warren wing is rising.”

Warren’s office Friday morning said she would not run for the leader’s spot.

Schumer, a senior member of the Senate Banking Committee who represents New York’s powerful financial industry, has raised millions of dollars from Wall Street donors over his career.

If Durbin or Murray challenge Schumer, they could receive support from liberal senators who might want to dispel the perception that the party has fallen increasingly under the sway of Wall Street.

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