How Chuck Schumer Hurts the Progressive Movement
Who Is Chuck Schumer?
Chuck Schumer, the senior New York Senator, is the third ranking Democrat in the Senate and slated to become the Democratic Majority Leader (if the Democrats take the Senate) or Democratic Minority Leader (if the Republicans keep their majority). Senator Schumer’s proposed elevation to Senate Democratic Leader is, in part, a reward for his efforts in electing the Democratic Senators in 2006 and 2008 needed for a 60 vote majority. Senator Schumer’s efforts to get Democrats elected to the Senate was praiseworthy, even if some progressives questioned the progressive bona fides of some of the candidates he recruited.
Senator Schumer tapped into the same rich financial industry donors who had previously provided money for his campaigns. Senator Schumer raised about $9 million from the securities and investment industry between 1989 and 2010. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that Senator Schumer raised at least $70 million from the financial sector for the Democratic Senate Finance Committee (DSFC). As head of the DSFC between 2005 through 2009, financial industry contributions to Senate Democrats increased by 50 percent.
Besides satisfying his financial industry donors by working to deregulate the industry, Senator Schumer has not prioritized health care nor supported a foreign policy based on diplomacy and restraint. Senator Schumer has shown himself to be an effective legislator who is quite capable and willing to operate in the background.
Senator Schumer’s efforts to get Democrats elected to the Senate was praiseworthy, even if some progressives questioned the progressive bona fides of some of the candidates he recruited.
Senator Schumer Has Worked to Deregulate the Financial Industry
As a member of both the Senate Finance and Banking committees, Senator Schumer helped prevent investor advocates from becoming members of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Instead, Senator Schumer helped to give the industry a sign-off on who became an SEC Commissioner.
Senator Schumer was one of the key Senators calling for lessening regulations on Wall Street. In 2006 Senator Schumer was a key sponsor of legislation that prevented regulatory agencies from overseeing credit rating companies. As a result, the regulators were unable to blow the whistle on credit ratings companies like Moody’s when they rated subprime securities as triple-A, thus contributing to the 2008 financial collapse.
Senator Schumer carefully modulated his role in placating the financial industry following the financial collapse. Robert Kuttner noted that Senator Schumer quietly enabled a budget deal that removed a key provision of the financial regulatory Dodd-Frank Act. Senator Schumer used a strategy of letting others take the lead in pushing for legislation to benefit the financial industry as he worked for the same legislation behind the scenes.
Following the financial collapse, with the more progressive slant of the Democrats in the Senate, Senator Schumer worked to burnish his progressive identity while continuing to help the financial industry. Senator Schumer has publicly aligned himself with the progressive and reform wing of the Democratic Party, but he still maintains close ties to the financial industry.
Senator Schumer has publicly aligned himself with the progressive and reform wing of the Democratic Party, but he still maintains close ties to the financial industry.
Senator Schumer Does Not Prioritize Health Care As Highly As Electing Democrats
Although Senator Schumer worked and voted for the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA), in a 2010 speech, he criticized President Obama for pushing the bill through Congress in his first term. Senator Schumer argued that because the bill only provided insurance for 11 percent of the uninsured voters, mostly poor, Democrats should have directed their efforts toward the middle class.
It is, of course, true that most of the uninsured were poor, and therefore perceived to benefit most directly from the ACA. However, middle class voters benefitted from tax credits, health care subsidies, mandates preventing cancellation of policies due to pre-existing conditions, and the ability for their children to remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26. In addition, middle class voters are now enjoying the slowest increase in health insurance in years with the potential for even greater savings in the future.
Senator Schumer expressed his views about health care in an effort to explain why Democrats lost seats in the 2010 and 2012 elections. According to Senator Schumer, Democrats blew the opportunity they had to help the middle class, and thus, were punished in those elections. Many progressives believe the cost of Democratic politicians losing their seats to gain health care was more than worth it; Senator Schumer clearly has a different view.
Many progressives believe the cost of Democratic politicians losing their seats to gain health care was more than worth it; Senator Schumer clearly has a different view.
Senator Schumer Rejects a Foreign Policy Based on Diplomacy and Restraint
Senator Schumer’s decision to vote against President Obama’s Iran Accord, coupled with the announcement being made in early August instead of early September, represents the most telling indicator of what his politics are. Despite the hopes of some Democrats that Senator Schumer will allow his fellow senators to vote their conscience, Senator Schumer will almost certainly try to persuade other senators to vote against the accord, albeit, quietly. Working quietly, behind the scenes, to kill legislation with which he disagrees is a hall mark of how Senator Schumer operates. Progressives believe Senator Schumer rejected a foreign policy based on diplomacy and restraint to stand with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who favors a Bush era style of foreign policy that makes ample use of aggressive force. In addition, Senator Schumer’s stated reason for opposing the accord indicates he has bought into Prime Minister’s Netanyahu’s fantastical arguments for opposing the accord, despite his reputation for intelligence and sharp political insight.
As Fareed Zakaria notes, Senator Schumer begins his discussion of the Deal’s inadequacy by ignoring the provision that sets the Iranian Nuclear Program back a good two years before the sanctions are lifted. The Deal provides for Iran to destroy 98 percent of its enriched uranium including its 5 to 20 percent enriched uranium, remove and store more over two-thirds of its centrifuges, terminate all enrichment at the Fordow nuclear facility and disable key components of the Arak plutonium reactor. In contrast, an intense bombing campaign is expected, at best, to set Iran back three years at most.
Senator Schumer also chooses to follow Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Republicans in saying the inspections are not “anywhere at any time” because there is a maximum 24-day delay before IAEA can inspect suspected nuclear sites. Senator Schumer and others simply misstate the inspections regime by conflating inspections of known with those of unknown facilities.
For facilities known to be nuclear sites, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have access within 24 hours or less. For facilities suspected to be nuclear sites once the agreement is in effect, the Iranians must permit IAEA inspections within 24 days. The failure of the Iranians to comply would be the equivalent of being caught red-handed. The possibility of moving material to make nuclear weapons to an undeclared site without IAEA inspectors being aware of it or cleaning up such a site without a radioactive footprint is virtually impossible.
In addition, Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing capacity will be under continuous monitoring for 20 years and its uranium mines and mills will be monitored for 25 years. Within the first 8 years of the agreement, Iran is required to agree to additional IAEA expanded access to Iran’s nuclear facilities and to request access to suspect sites on a permanent basis. To say, as Senator Schumer does, that after 10 years Iran will have a direct path to a nuclear weapon is not true.
Since at least the early 2000s, Prime Minister Netanyahu, without contradiction from the U.S. foreign policy establishment or Senator Schumer has sounded warnings against the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon. They have implored the world to stop Iran to save the world from facing catastrophic consequences and to eliminate an existential threat to Israel. Now, comes an accord to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon for 15 years and to put in place safeguards that make it less likely for Iran to develop nuclear for years thereafter. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reaction to this accord is to complain about the other non-nuclear issues that were not addressed in the accord.
Senator Schumer’s response to this accord is also to ignore its benefits, and instead, focus on Iranian funding of terrorists and developing intercontinental ballistic missiles. Of course, these are real concerns. The question is why does Senator Schumer believe that Iran having a nuclear weapon would eviscerate those concerns rather than to heighten them. While Iran will be able to continue funding terrorists and developing other weapon systems under this agreement, the U.S. and Israel can continue to combat Iran, only without calculating the effect of a nuclear war. Unlike many previous arms control agreements, this deal places no limits on U.S. or Israeli military capacity.
Senator Schumer says a better accord can be negotiated. Like Prime Minister Netanyahu and Republicans, Senator Schumer asserts a better deal can be negotiated with Iran by maintaining the sanctions. Opponents of the current accord claim the other signatories to the accord (Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany) can be persuaded by the U.S. to maintain the multilateral sanctions that were responsible for bringing Iran to negotiation table.
To dispel this kind of fantastical thinking about the likelihood of maintaining multilateral sanctions, the top diplomats of the signatories of the accord met with 30 Senate Democrats. In addition to expressing their concerns about the dire consequences of the U.S. Congress rejecting the deal, the diplomats assured the senators that multilateral sanctions fall apart. Except for Senator Schumer, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his supporters, and the Republicans, the world believes the best deal possible with Iran was in fact secured.
Even if the multilateral sanctions fall apart, Senator Schumer believes U.S. sanctions on Iran, coupled with U.S. secondary sanctions on other nations trading with Iran, are enough to drive Iran to further concessions because of the size of the U.S. economy. Senator Schumer offers no evidence or logic for this belief.
According to Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg, the real flaw in Schumer’s argument is measuring “the accord against the ideal agreement that those men wanted…,” rather than the consequences of rejecting it. Further, as Professor Graham Allison, a U.S. nuclear disarmament expert notes, the current debate about this accord rests on the reluctance of many partisans to accept the reality of how far Iran has progressed toward the development of a nuclear weapon. While the world was focused on the U.S. and Iraq, Iran was developing the technology and know-how needed for building nuclear weapons. Contrary to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s and other opponents of the accord, Iran is now two months away from a nuclear bomb and nothing the U.S. or Israel can do (short of an invasion and occupation of Iran) can change that reality. As James Fallows points out, if Iran is so intent on destroying Israel that they are willing to face Israeli retaliation and the deaths of millions of Iranians, then why would they relent in their insane goal of Israel’s destruction because of the costs of sanctions?
If Iran is so intent on destroying Israel that they are willing to face Israeli retaliation and the deaths of millions of Iranians, then why would they relent in their insane goal of Israel’s destruction because of the costs of sanctions?
In three different areas—regulating financial markets, prioritizing health care, and supporting foreign policies based on diplomacy and restraint—Senator Schumer has rejected a progressive vision. Although Senator Schumer has moderated the financial deregulation course he was on prior to the 2008 financial meltdown, the extent to which his behavior can change is limited by his position as New York’s senior Senator.
Moreover, Senator Schumer’s modus operandi suggests, despite his public positions on progressive issues, he may well quietly work to oppose positions with which he disagrees. If Senator Schumer becomes the Democratic Senate leader, progressives may have an implacable foe in achieving their agenda.