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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Leader-in-waiting Schumer wades into a hot election year

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer holds a news

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer holds a news conference in his Manhattan office on Nov. 22, 2015. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Sen. Chuck Schumer expects to win a fourth term in November — and ascend shortly after that to lead the Democratic caucus in the nation’s upper house.

But even if he had less at stake in the months ahead, New York’s senior senator might well sidestep clashes between other big Democratic players.

So when Newsday asked him Thursday if he considered the current show of tension between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo destructive, Schumer gave a guarded response.

“Well, look,” he said. “I mean, I think both of them do a very good job. And I just, you know, I hope everything will get patched up.”

Has he tried in private to reconcile the two? “I’m pretty busy in Washington,” Schumer said.

Moments earlier, Schumer, at a breakfast meeting of the Association for a Better New York, sent messages beyond the immediate audience.

His talking points added up to a sort of upbeat state-of-the-state-in-Washington speech.

Schumer suggested that the “era of dysfunction and gridlock” in Congress had ended, and spoke of “moving towards more rational budgeting.” Naturally this would mark good news to election-year voters who frown on government-shutting standoffs.

In so many words, Schumer also was telling big interest groups, and the public at large, that he was bringing home the budget goods. The National Institutes of Health is due for a $2-billion increase, and NIH funding levels have been important to New York, he said. He spoke of averting massive cuts to education funding, specifically for the poor. He touted increments of progress on mass transit, taxes and other fronts.

On the partisan front, Schumer evoked division on the far right of the Republican Party. He said Donald Trump could win the nomination because “he’s more in touch with the average Republican primary voter than the Koch brothers have ever been” — and doesn’t propose cutting Medicare or Social Security.

Schumer claimed top GOP lawmakers realize that if Trump or Sen. Ted Cruz is nominated, either would lose big in the general election and, in the process, return Democrats to a Senate majority.

On the diplomatic front, he said that while he disagrees with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) on most issues, “you can sit down and reason with him.”

“I like him very much as a person,” Schumer said. “The old art of compromising and negotiating? He’s good at it.”

Schumer also showed election-year caution Thursday in what he chose not to mention. The senator, in tune with the Israeli government, opposed the U.S. nuclear deal with Iran, prompting criticism from several Democrats. Schumer also didn’t note his support for Hillary Clinton as she spars with Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination — but he did criticize the primary process, as he has before.

Schumer was asked later if in this high-stakes election year he’s heard anything about a Republican opponent.

“I’m sure there’ll be one,” he replied.

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