'Schumerisms': How Harry Reid's likely successor will spar with Republicans

Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is likely to take over as the Senate's top Democrat when Sen. Harry Reid retires in 2016, has his own particular brand of rhetoric.

Yuri Gripas/Reuters/File
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada (r.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York talk to reporters after a weekly Senate party caucus luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 24, 2015. Senator Reid, who announced on Friday he would not seek reelection next year, has endorsed Senator Schumer to succeed him in the leadership role.

Schumerisms. Expressions of a frequent partisan bent used by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is poised to become the chamber’s – and possibly the entire party’s – most powerful Democrat in 2017.

Lovers of vivid political language will miss Senate minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who announced his retirement last week. Senator Reid is infamous for his searing, pointed comments about conservatives – and his regular “walk-backs” of those outbursts. But the loquacious Senator Schumer, who is widely expected to succeed Reid as Democratic leader, has developed his own brand of bombast that relies less on Reid’s personal taunts and more on sweeping indictments of his opponents’ purported political sins.

Schumer, who served 18 years in the House before joining the Senate in 1999, is fond of labeling Republicans “out of the mainstream” on any number of issues. It’s his way of portraying left-leaning Democrats as being in the political center – a tougher case to make, since Republicans just romped to a Senate majority in the midterm elections. Schumer is second only to Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah in invoking the “mainstream” declaration, according to the Sunlight Foundation's "Capitol Words" tool tracking Congressional Record usage.

Schumer did so with gusto during last year, when he attacked conservative Rep. Steve King (R) of Iowa for being instrumental in preventing the House from taking up the Senate-passed comprehensive immigration reform bill. “The record on Republican immigration reform is clear,” Schumer said. “Steve King, a far-right, way-out-of-the-mainstream outlier, does not just spew hatred, he calls the shots.” After the 2013 government shutdown, he bemoaned “these tea party folks who are so out of the mainstream.”

Schumer also is a fan of summing up complex issues with “the bottom line is very simple.” It’s a rhetorical cousin of the common-for-Capitol Hill sentence opener, “let me be clear.” It surfaces a lot in Schumer’s longtime, if largely futile, push for gun control laws. “The bottom line is very simple,” Schumer said earlier this month in unveiling a bill aimed at tightening loopholes allowing people on terrorist watch lists to legally buy firearms. “With the new danger we have with terrorism, we have to close every loophole.”

On a similar Republicans-as-extremists theme, Schumer often invokes the Almighty in describing what he contends would be dire consequences resulting from GOP proposals. In late January 2011, weeks after Republicans took control of the House, Schumer proclaimed that if tea party-fueled members there held up passage of a budget, it could send the United States into “God forbid … a depression.” But Schumer doesn’t just use the phrase to attack Republicans. In January, he sought to prod the Federal Aviation Administration for putting in lighting systems at New York airports. “God forbid a crash occurs on a runway with planes hurtling in two different directions hitting one another and it still isn’t installed,” he warned.

A final well-known Schumer verbal tic isn’t an assertion – it’s a question. During the skirmishing in February over Homeland Security Department funding and immigration, Schumer told reporters to watch what happens when Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky tried to meet the 60-vote margin needed to move the bill forward. National Journal’s Sarah Mimms wrote: “When asked to clarify, Schumer grinned, offering a typical Schumerism: ‘What do you think?’ "

Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark write their "Speaking Politics" blog exclusively for Politics Voices.

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