Chuck Schumer is not running desperately to retain his U.S. Senate seat. He doesn’t have to be another Senator Pothole, directing his energies toward the minutiae of governance, like the senator he defeated, Alfonse D’Amato. He’s the Senate minority leader, at a time when the Republican majority in Washington is doing little or nothing to check and balance the excesses of President Donald Trump. That attitude of meek compliance, about to play itself out in the confirmation of Trump’s second nominee to the Supreme Court, demands that the minority party adopt a no-time-to-waste approach to rescue the republic from the ravages of this presidency.
But Schumer insists on continuing to waste time — almost every Sunday. Here’s his approach: Pick an itsy-bitsy issue, hold a news conference on Sunday, when very little else is going on, and watch as the media dutifully take notes and write about it.
This week, the story was about hurricane-damaged vehicles being resold as used cars. OK, if you happen to have bought one already, or if you’re looking for a used car, this might be a useful tidbit. But should the Senate minority leader be expending any energy on an issue so minuscule at a time of such great danger for the nation?
This behavior counts as a stunt no matter when it happens, but especially now. Schumer’s approach began when he was a young assemblyman from Brooklyn. Every year, in the frantic, post-midnight closing hours of the Assembly session, Schumer would rise to his feet and introduce the students from P.S. 196, viewing the end-of-session proceedings from the gallery above. What were young students doing in Albany at that odd hour? What were their parents thinking? Why was it so hard to see them up there in the dim gallery? Actually, there were no students from P.S. 196 there. They were a figment of his imagination. Schumer had a zany parliamentary explanation for this once-a-year maneuver, but it was really little more than a stunt — like his annoying Sunday news conferences.
In his defense, Schumer could argue that these less-than-cosmic announcements are part of his habit of staying in touch with his constituents. Toward that end, he visits each of New York’s 62 counties at least once a year. The recent stunning defeat of Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens/Bronx), a powerful Democrat who could have been a future House speaker, is evidence that those who don’t tend assiduously to their districts risk losing their seats. But make no mistake: Schumer is not Crowley. He has been everywhere, done everything, kissed every baby. He is unavoidable for comment. Between his relentless omnipresence and his reliably bountiful contributions from Wall Street, he is in no risk of losing this seat.
It’s long past time for Schumer to stop doing the modern-day equivalent of announcing nonexistent visitors in the Assembly gallery. Instead, he needs to start paying attention full time to the orange crisis facing the nation.
Bob Keeler is a former member of Newsday’s editorial board.