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Schumer + Xi

What Schumer told Xi

It’s been 17 days since Kevin McCarthy was thrown out of the speakership. The House is in the midst of a real crisis, with no end in sight.

But this morning, we wanted to remind you that the rest of the world is in crisis too. In the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has taken a leap onto the world stage. We interviewed Schumer Thursday about his recent visits to Israel and China.

On the functioning chamber: After the cameras left Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Schumer pushed Chinese President Xi Jinping to deliver a message to Iran about the war in Israel.

“It would be really important for China to use its influence on Iran to not widen the war,” the Senate majority leader told the strongman, an account relayed to us by Schumer and confirmed by another person who was in the room on Oct. 9. “Xi said, ‘I will pass that message along.’ He’s supposed to just say nothing.”

That Schumer — the pride of Brooklyn — would be confronting the leader of America’s biggest long-term rival over its posture toward a major U.S. ally would’ve been inconceivable just a few years ago.

His four-decade congressional career, before becoming Senate majority leader, was laser-focused on domestic policy — from the assault-weapons ban to infrastructure and his ritual Sunday press conferences in New York.

Before this year, Schumer hadn’t been on a codel in 10 years. Now, within the span of a week, he’s logged dozens of flight hours, flying to China and South Korea, back to New York and then to Israel following Hamas’ terrorist attacks.

“Until recently, a long flight was to Buffalo,” Schumer quipped during an interview in his Capitol office.

For Schumer, it’s a new experience. His contemporaries in congressional leadership include former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, both of whom have carved out impressive foreign-policy legacies.

To be sure, Schumer is a longtime China hawk and supporter of Israel, as well as being one of the few Democrats to oppose the Iran nuclear deal. But foreign policy was never a priority. Until now.

Meeting the moment: When Hamas launched its devastating terror attacks on Israel, the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in U.S. history felt he had to step up — from pressing Xi on Iran to calling out members of his own party.

“The threat of Hamas has to be eliminated. This idea of a ceasefire — and let Hamas continue to exist so they can do it again? Nuh-uh,” an emotional Schumer said. “No one in Israel is for that.”

Schumer slammed those who are still blaming Israel for the bombing of a hospital in Gaza City, even after U.S. intelligence officials concluded Israel wasn’t responsible for the deadly attack. Misinformation fuels antisemitic violence, Schumer warned.

“Who would take Hamas’ position after what they did?” Schumer said. “Hamas doesn’t believe in two states. They want one Arab state, Palestinian state, with no Jews in it, and in their doctrines, they exult in shooting Jews.”

In Israel, Schumer pressed its leaders to operate within international norms of war and minimize civilian casualties, describing it as a “difficult” task given Hamas’ cruel tactics in Gaza.

“We stressed that Israel has to have a higher standard — as angry as they are,” Schumer said.

Confronting Xi: Schumer and his bipartisan delegation, co-led by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), had just landed in Beijing for a long-planned trip when news broke about Hamas’ attacks. With little access to Western news sources, Schumer and the delegation didn’t learn the full extent of the violence until getting briefed at a secure facility inside the U.S. embassy.

Even in China, Schumer was focusing on Israel. Schumer kept thinking he needed to fly there but was told it wasn’t logistically possible until the senators returned home. So Schumer cut the trip short. A day later, he was wheels up for Israel with a different bipartisan group.

“We were all raising the same issues,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), the only senator to accompany Schumer on both trips. “That, I think, made a real impact.”

After publicly calling out Xi for China’s bland statement on Hamas — leading to a stronger condemnation — Schumer continued, behind closed doors, to abandon the diplomatic niceties that often define these meetings. His strategy elicited actual responses from Xi — a rarity.

“It was supposed to be 30 minutes. Everybody said he’ll just read a perfunctory thing,” Schumer said. “It was an 80-minute discussion… It was a real give-and-take. I asked him direct questions and asked him to answer them.”

At one point, Xi told senators he favors a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. Hamas doesn’t, Schumer responded, and “would do to the Jews in the rest of the country what they did near Gaza if they could.”

The way Schumer described the exchange — an account verified by others in the room — it seemed Xi was caught off guard by the New York Democrat’s unique style of diplomacy.

“He acted like he didn’t know [Hamas’ position],” Schumer said. “He didn’t say he didn’t know, but he acted like it — and that was the consensus in the room.”

But the weeklong journey around the world had a much greater meaning for Schumer — a personal one.

“If not now, when? If not me, who?” Schumer said, quoting Rabbi Hillel from the Hebrew text Pirkei Avot. “As the leading Jewish elected official in America, that’s how I feel.”

— Andrew Desiderio

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.