Chuck Schumer started trending on Twitter last night. That’s not uncommon for an prominent politician. After years serving as Senate Minority Leader, Democratic victories in Georgia thrust Schumer into the Majority Leader role. It’s a position he and Democrats coveted for a decade. With Joe Biden as president and a majority in the House, Democrats could finally impose their will on a crumbling democracy.
But trending on Twitter isn’t always a good thing. In fact, it’s usually not. One click would reveal that most user were asking a simple question about Schumer: what the hell is he doing?
It’s a fair question. Schumer’s only been Senate Majority Leader for a few months, but somehow it still feels like the chamber is under Republican control. That’s not necessarily all Schumer’s fault, of course. The Biden administration’s insistence on bipartisan consensus has led to stalled bills and bogus counteroffers. Turns out it’s hard to negotiate with a party that abhors compromise and is rooting for you to fail out loud. And those difficult negotiations become downright stupid when you realize you don’t actually need their support to pass major legislation to begin with.
Democrats are already feeling the effects of this inaction. Several outlets have covered Republicans’ assault on democracy in statehouses across the country. It’s not a stretch to argue that the Jan. 6 Capitol putsch never truly ended (at least in a legislative sense). The opposition party isn’t just stalling negotiations, it’s actively working to make it easier for them to steal future elections. Many Democrats, including Biden himself (while eating ice cream, no less), lament the fact that they can’t get enough Republican support for a bipartisan commission to investigate Jan. 6. But Democrats run the Justice Department. There’s no need for a bipartisan commission—the party that wants to do the investigating already holds all the cards.
It’s around this point where you have to ask: what would Republicans do if the roles were reversed? It’s a somewhat pointless exercise, partially because we know what they’d do. And if things don’t change quickly, we’ll find out in a few years. There’s no sitting on hands or waiting for the other side to come around. Mitch McConnell, vile as he may be, never made apologies or excuses for violating democratic norms or procedures to bully through whatever the hell Republicans wanted when they had majorities in both houses. That’s what people are comparing Schumer to, and probably why they’re so disappointed in his (and Democrats’) weird desire to work across the aisle.
Schumer, for his part, has echoed the Democrats’ leftward swing in recent months. He’s been one of the loudest advocates for student debt relief, pressuring Biden to cancel $50,000 of debt per borrower. But Biden just left student loan forgiveness out of his budget (and didn’t seem particularly keen on anything more than $10,000 anyway). That’s been Schumer’s biggest issue, at least out loud, and it went nowhere. He’s working on some other (sketchier) things as well, but the only prominent legislation that’s achieved that desperate bipartisan support is the new Endless Frontier Act, designed to combat China. Turns out both parties can get behind that.
The downside to Democrats’ capitulation could get ugly, though. A new study by progressive strategy group Way to Win found that Dems were sending mixed messages during the 2020 election. Voters had a hard time understanding why they were so willing to work with a party openly calling them extremists. Democrats not attacking Republicans back only normalized GOP attacks against them. Go figure.
There’s no telling what Democrats will do with those results, but the answer should be obvious. It’s well past time to take off the kid gloves and start governing with the mandate people voted for. Thanks to voter suppression and other election rigging in Republican statehouses, Dems might never have these majorities again. It’s time Schumer & co. started acting like it.