Washington Prowler

Chuck’s Hillary Problem

Their simmering war gets hotter. Also: Talent no-show. Plus: 2004 jitters.

By 11.21.02

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SIMMERING SCHUMER
Some Democratic Senators may want to see Hillary Clinton in the leadership, but not all. That's because the simmering war between Clinton and the senior senator from New York, Chuck Schumer continues.

Schumer, who is not a popular member of the Senate Democratic Caucus due to his love of the spotlight, has worked quietly and not so quietly behind the scenes during Clinton's first two years in the Senate to undercut her push for a higher profile role among her Democratic colleagues. His staff has leaked embarrassing anecdotes about the junior senator, the most widely circulated being that Clinton made a point of not attending funerals and memorial services held for victims of the September 11 terror attacks in New York.

Later, at the height of the New York gubernatorial primary battle between Democrats Carl McCall and Andrew Cuomo, Schumer stepped up to endorse McCall in an effort to force Clinton's hand. "The two have been sniping since Senator Clinton showed up," says a Clinton staffer in New York. "He just can't stand the fact that he has to share the spotlight with someone else."

Now Clinton is poised to move into a leadership position, albeit a lower level one, as chairman of the Democratic Steering and Coordination Committee. Depending on how she uses the seat, it could allow her to become one of Senate's most visible Democrats. "Part of what she's going to be expected to do is shape a message for the Democratic caucus," says a staffer on Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "Depending on how she wants to do that and put it out, she could be the voice for the Democrats in the Senate if Daschle allows it."

That's a big if. Daschle has yet to officially announce who will be taking the reins of the steering committee, though it's expected that current chairman Sen. John Kerry won't remain. And Schumer, according to a Democratic leadership staffer, while not interested in the job himself, has complained to his colleagues that a junior senator like Clinton shouldn't be given that much influence. Never mind that he's just four years into his first term as a senator himself.

"It does bother him that he hasn't been considered for a leadership slot the way other senators have," says a Democratic leadership staffer. "But he hasn't made a lot of noise about wanting one -- after all, he's viewed as a leader on the Judiciary Committee. He makes a lot of noise about a lot of other things. Clinton obviously gets under his skin. He better get used to it. He's going to have to take orders from her soon enough."

OLD HABITS DIE HARD
Gov. Bob Holden, Democratic governor of Missouri, signed off on the Senate election of Republican Jim Talent on Thursday, more than a week later than many political observers expected. As a result, Democrat Jean Carnahan was able to finish the lame duck Senate session before heading home for good. Republicans had hoped to have Talent seated for what could have been several close votes in the waning days of the 107th session, including the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. But Holden's office took its time in processing the state vote certification.

"The signing is at the governor's discretion," says a Senate Republican leadership staffer. "We expected they would play games with it. It's why we told Talent and [Minnesota Senator-elect Norm] Coleman not to worry about pushing on being here. In the end we didn't need them so it wasn't a big deal. Let the Democrats be petty about it. We'll have two years to be petty about other things."

COMING JITTERS
Republicans are already looking at the next class of Senators up for re-election in 2004 and trying to figure out ways to strengthen their hand. The Republican National Committee has identified several at-risk senators, including Jim Bunning in Kentucky and Peter Fitzgerald in Illinois. Two other possible problems are Don Nickles's seat in Oklahoma and John McCain's in Arizona. "If they both retire, we'd have to find candidates for those, and both of the states didn't perform as we expected this last election cycle," says an RNC staffer.

In Oklahoma, voters elected a Democratic governor, bypassing favorite son, Republican Steve Largent. In Arizona, Democrats have shown a renewed vigor in recent races, electing one of their own as governor on November 5. Already, there is talk that retiring House member J.C. Watts is interested in Nickles's seat if he decides not to seek re-election. McCain has not discussed his plans, but some Republicans think he may step aside for health reasons.

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