Column: How Chuck Schumer talks out of both sides of his mouth
The late terrorist Yasser Arafat (1929-2004) was famous for saying one thing to American media and the opposite to Palestinian audiences. To U.S. presidents and chief diplomatic correspondents he would profess his desire for peace and for a two-state solution, while to Arabs and Muslims he would impugn Jews, hint at Israel's abolition, and incite and pay for anti-Semitic violence. His problem was that, like most liars, he was eventually found out. President George W. Bush saw through Arafat's skein of deception and disengaged from the self-defeating "peace process" that he had manipulated to his advantage for decades. By the time of Arafat's death, it was clear that any practical improvement in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship would have to bypass the Palestinian autocrat. He just couldn't be trusted.
It is by this standard that I hereby judge Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer to be the Yasser Arafat of the Democratic Party. Schumer is so practiced at saying one thing to Democratic elites and another to the Democratic base that it is easy to fall for his charade. But neither Arafat nor Schumer should fool you. Schumer is a hypocrite and a liar and out for no one but himself. And it is for these reasons that his threat to filibuster Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch should be viewed with incredulity.
Schumer says he will vote against bringing the Gorsuch nomination to the floor of the Senate. He urges his fellow Senate Democrats to do the same. His decision is chum in the water for the frenzied "resistance" to President Trump, which has decided that a judge who was approved to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals with Democratic support—including Schumer's—and whose fans include President Obama's former solicitor general and legal scholar Cass Sunstein is somehow a jurisprudential freak who should be prevented from joining the Supreme Court by extraordinary means. The conventional wisdom in Washington, taking Schumer at his word, holds that enough Democrats will follow their leader to force Mitch McConnell to change the Senate rules. This is the so-called "nuclear option" on which Democrats were ready to act had they won last November. But of course they didn't win. So now 60 votes is "the appropriate standard for a Supreme Court nominee," Schumer said this week. Another lie.
The abortion lobby and liberal activists are pleased with their leader. The donations will keep rolling in. But what is Schumer telling his caucus behind closed doors? I ask because, while plenty of Democrats seem willing to expose themselves as dishonest hypocrites, as I write there are not enough votes to sustain a filibuster. According to the Washington Post, 29 Democrats are ready to block Gorsuch, but 12 additional votes are necessary. If you look at the list of Democrats on the fence, you see that the April 5 vote could go either way. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Manchin, both of whom are up for reelection in states President Trump won by double digits, have said Gorsuch deserves an up or down vote. Sens. Joe Donnelly and Jon Tester are both up in 2018 in states Trump won by 20 points. Senator Angus King's desire to be known as an "independent" would be quashed if he fell into line for such a transparent power grab. Last week Senator Pat Leahy said he might vote for cloture, only to back off on Twitter when the liberal interest groups went after him. Who knows what he'll decide in the end.
If these senators vote to move the nomination to the floor, Republicans would need one more Democrat to stop the filibuster attempt. Among the possibilities are Michael Bennet, Gorsuch's home-state senator, and Mark Warner, who might want to live it up and assert his centrism. Could that happen? Especially if the Democrats are aware that McConnell probably has the votes to go nuclear, which would not only leave them with Gorsuch on the Court but also free Trump to nominate Bill Pryor or Mike Lee or Kid Rock the next time around? Having the nomination squeak through would allow Schumer to have it both ways: animating his base with a meaningless pose while preserving his leverage. There's a reason he smirks so much.
This is the self-proclaimed "guardian of Israel" who said he opposed the Iran deal—but then did absolutely nothing to stop it. "In my experience with matters of conscience and great consequence like this, each member ultimately comes to their own conclusion," he said at the time. OK, sure. But they also reach conclusions after lobbying and persuasion from influential figures in their caucus and party. And it is precisely such lobbying and persuasion on an issue he claims is dear to his heart that Schumer did not do. And he didn't do it because leading the opposition to the Iran deal wasn't in his self-interest. Taking a stand against President Obama would have sunk his chances for career advancement. Besides, he must have thought, the deal was going to happen anyway. A regular profile in courage, Chuck Schumer is.
Last November, when Schumer announced he supported Representative Keith Ellison for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, many of us were surprised. Ellison is on the far left of the Democratic Party, has a history with the anti-Semitic Nation of Islam, and supports Bernie Sanders in his war against the Wall Street bankers that Schumer represents. What was Schumer doing? Here's what he was doing: He knew Ellison had no chance, that the White House would oppose Ellison, that the opposition research would bring Ellison down, but he supported Ellison anyway just to shore up his left flank. He was telling the base he was with them, while telegraphing to the Democratic elites alarmed at Ellison's rise that he was with them too.
Conniving, spineless, duplicitous, misleading, double-crossing—Chuck Schumer is a fitting exemplar for the modern Democratic Party. All he needs is the keffiyeh.