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Schumer + McConnell

Schumer on defense as fight to replace McConnell heats up

Today, we’re bringing you our second installment of the Leader Look. This time, we’re focusing on the top senators — Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Both face their own unique challenges in the weeks and months ahead, with control of the chamber hanging in the balance and the Senate GOP leadership race picking up speed.

Chuck Schumer: The Senate majority leader has a number of difficult decisions to make — and sooner than you may think.

Most immediately, the New York Democrat will have to navigate the tricky politics of a Senate impeachment trial. The House is slated to send its impeachment articles against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to the Senate next week, triggering the trial process.

As we’ve written, Schumer can quickly dispose of the impeachment articles if Democrats stick together on a vote to bypass the trial. Dismissing the impeachment charges requires only a simple majority, and it would ensure that the Senate doesn’t have to spend several days or weeks on a trial whose outcome is predetermined. Conservative Senate GOP hardliners and House Republicans will yell, though.

Next up: Legislation on TikTok, taxes, railway safety, cannabis banking, executive pay clawbacks and kids’ online safety could all be in play, too.

Senate Republicans will have to decide whether to cooperate on any of these legislative issues, particularly those that could boost Democratic incumbents. If Republicans choose to filibuster, Schumer could hold “show” votes designed to highlight GOP intransigence while giving vulnerable Democrats a chance to publicly support the measures.

The Senate might also be forced to return to the issue of Ukraine aid. If Speaker Mike Johnson’s foreign aid pitch is successful and gets significant Democratic support, it will be hard for Schumer to ignore any House-passed bill that includes Ukraine funding, even if it’s far different than what the Senate approved. Johnson has signaled his proposal would convert U.S. aid to Ukraine into a loan while attaching energy provisions and the REPO Act. But it’s unclear whether this will pass the House.

Schumer will also have to shepherd through a few must-pass items in the short term. This includes FISA reauthorization, which expires on April 19, and FAA reauthorization, which expires on May 10. There’s also the likely supplemental spending package to address the Francis Scott Key Bridge disaster in Baltimore.

On top of that, Schumer will have to grapple with the ongoing backlash to his calls for new elections in Israel and the replacement of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Schumer avoided scrutinizing the Netanyahu government for several weeks while members of his party were speaking out against Israel’s military operations in Gaza.

And as Israel contemplates a full-scale invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah — a move the White House opposes — some Democratic senators are threatening to block weapons sales if President Joe Biden can’t get Netanyahu to change course.

Mitch McConnell: Entering the final stretch of his 17-plus year tenure as Senate GOP leader, McConnell finds himself in an awkward spot. Both of his potential successors are telegraphing that they’ll implement significant changes to the way the Republican Conference does business. This can all be viewed as an implicit criticism of McConnell’s leadership style.

Yet the 82-year-old GOP leader has some unfinished business too. Most importantly, McConnell wants to see Congress approve new aid for Ukraine.

McConnell is pulling out all the stops here. That includes openly calling on Johnson to take up and pass the $95 billion Senate bill while implicitly chiding the speaker for the delay. Any longtime McConnell watcher knows that the Kentucky Republican rarely calls out a GOP speaker like this.

But this time is different. McConnell, a Russia hawk and an acolyte of Reagan-era foreign policy doctrine, is watching his party grow increasingly isolationist under the control of former President Donald Trump.

The Senate GOP Conference has changed dramatically in recent years as McConnell has seen Trump-aligned Republicans replace his fellow defense hawks as they retired. And McConnell now has precious little time to put his mark on a lasting national security debate that has split his party.

Case in point: During a radio interview Monday on WHAS in Louisville, Ky., McConnell said he’ll be spending his remaining days in leadership “fighting back against the isolationist movement in my own party.” McConnell brought up the Ukraine fight unprompted and lamented that more and more Republicans “are heading in that direction” on foreign policy.

Fundraising: The fundraising war between the two sides is in full swing as well. Democrats lead in cash-on-hand, but they also have far more seats to defend.

The DSCC has raked in $93.5 million through the end of February and is sitting on nearly $32 million. The Schumer-aligned Senate Majority PAC took in $83.5 million during 2023 and had $61.5 million in cash.

Meanwhile, the NRSC raised almost $102 million through Feb. 29 and has $24.8 million in the bank. The McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund raised $37.1 million last year and has $35 million in cash.

— Andrew Desiderio

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