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Schumer Under Pressure to Add Sanders to Leadership Team

Sen. Charles Schumer is under fire and being encouraged to back Sen. Bernie Sanders as the chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Center, a position that can greatly influence the party’s message and floor strategy.

The Hill reports:

The top two elected positions, Senate Democratic leader and Senate Democratic whip, appear to be set.

Schumer, who was in charge of the Senate Democratic messaging operation this year, will replace Sen. Harry Reid (Nev.) as leader, and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin will likely keep his job as whip.

Sanders’s allies say he would be a good choice for the third-ranking position because he had phenomenal success mobilizing voters during the Democratic presidential primaries. That showed he knows how to put together a message that resonates, they argue.

The Senate Democratic leadership’s focus on the Supreme Court and Republican obstruction of Merrick Garland, President Obama’s middle-of-the-road nominee to the court, fell flat with voters this year, they note.

Liberals want Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), both high-profile critics of Wall Street, to play bigger roles in the Senate’s leadership.

Warren is a policy adviser to the Democratic leadership but does not rank among the top four positions.

More than two dozen protesters staged a sit-in outside Schumer’s office Monday, calling on him to step aside for Sanders or Warren.

Some liberals are skeptical of Schumer because of his close ties to Wall Street forged after 18 years of representing New York’s powerful financial services industry.

But he is widely respected within the Democratic caucus, and Sanders has made it clear that he supports Schumer’s election as minority leader.

In a peace offering to the party’s liberal wing, Schumer has endorsed Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.), one of the few lawmakers who endorsed Sanders in the primary, to serve as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Michael Briggs, Sanders’s spokesman, said his boss “is in the process of talking to people” but declined to share details.

Sanders was in New York on Monday conducting a round of media interviews to promote his new book, “Our Revolution,” in which he argues that progressive ideals can catch on with the rest of the country if properly presented.

A spokesperson for Warren declined to comment.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who served as vice chairwoman of the center this Congress, is in line for the third-ranking position. She is one of Schumer’s closest allies in the Senate.

“Sen. Stabenow continues to have conversations regarding her role in Senate leadership. She looks forward to continuing to play a major role in the caucus,” said Stabenow spokeswoman Miranda Margowsky.

Also in the mix is Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), who holds the fourth-ranking leadership spot as Senate Democratic Conference secretary. Murray has spoken to colleagues since Election Day about her future role in the leadership but has not identified a specific position she’s interested in.

The Senate Democratic Conference only votes on filling the top two slots, leader and whip. Schumer, if elected, would appoint all the other positions after consulting with colleagues.

Reid said he has given Schumer his advice but declined to publicly weigh in on Monday.

“That’s up to Schumer, not up to me,” he said.

Because Murray has not specifically asked colleagues to vote for her as whip, aides say Durbin’s job is safe. He has called fellow senators since the election and asked them to back him.

“Sen. Murray is looking forward to continuing her work in the Democratic leadership next Congress under Sen. Schumer. She is having conversations with Sen. Schumer and others about what the Democratic leadership team should look like and where she can best contribute from,” said Eli Zupnick, her spokesman.

Ben Marter, Durbin’s spokesman, said his boss “would be honored to continue serving the caucus as whip.”

Liberal Democratic activists say Sanders and Warren have become the de facto leaders of the party and should be given official positions that reflect their status, if that’s what they want.

“The bottom line is these two are the leaders of this party moving forward,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America, a progressive advocacy group. “I hope they rise to the top in leadership positions, but whether they take positions with a title or just do it from their positions in the Senate, either way they’ll have millions of people back them up nationwide.”

“The Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party lost, [Rep.] Patrick Murphy, [former Sen.] Evan Bayh,” he added, referring to the Senate Democratic candidates in Florida and Indiana, respectively.

Reid and Schumer favored Murphy in the Florida primary over liberal firebrand Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) and recruited Bayh to run for his old seat.

Murphy was criticized for benefiting from a $1 million contribution from his father, a wealthy real estate developer, while Bayh took heat for the millions he earned working for a hedge fund after retiring from Congress.

Sanders in an interview Monday on ABC’s “The View” said the party largely failed in the general election to convince voters “we have the guts to take on Wall Street, we have the guts to take on the insurance companies and the drug companies and the fossil fuel companies.”

“I don’t think most people believe the Democratic Party has done that,” he added.

He argued that working-class voters “did not believe” Hillary Clinton, the party’s presidential nominee, “was prepared to stand up and fight for them.”

Liberal activists are predicting that Sanders and Warren will emerge as the most influential voices in the Democratic caucus next year.

“Warren and Sanders have very big platforms. They will be the dominant voice of the Democratic Party,” said Robert Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, a liberal advocacy group. “The Wall Street wing will be very sheepish and subdued.”

Photo credit: Marc Nozell/Flickr.

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