WASHINGTON — Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer have privately feuded for years as the No. 2 and No. 3 Democrats, as both ambitious senators jockeyed to succeed Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) once he stepped down.
That Durbin-Schumer feud has now spilled out into the open in a surprising and extraordinary way that reflects longstanding tensions between the former roommates.
The race for Democratic leader seemed all but settled within hours of Reid’s retirement announcement on Friday, when both he and Durbin said they would support Schumer to be the next top Democrat. (Schumer was the favorite to win a potential race, according to many Democratic sources.)
But in a strange turn of events, the offices of Schumer and Durbin are now publicly sniping at each other in a disagreement about whether Schumer, in turn, agreed to support Durbin to remain Democratic whip.
According to Durbin spokesman Ben Marter, Schumer promised to support him for whip.
“Late Thursday, early Friday during [budget] vote-a-rama, at about 2 o’clock, Senator Reid came up to Senator Durbin and said ‘I’d like to speak to you.’ Based on that interaction, Senator Durbin went to Senator Schumer, took him aside and said Senator Reid asked to speak with me and I think he’s going to say he’s not going to run again. Durbin told Schumer ‘you’ve earned this’ — that he wasn’t going run for leader and would support Schumer and that he intended to run for his position again,” Marter said Wednesday by phone.
“The senators agreed to support one another and they shook hands on it. It was a handshake. That’s what a deal is,” he said.
Schumer’s office says that’s false.
“That’s not what happened, and they know that,” Schumer spokesman Matt House said by phone, in response to Marter’s comment.
Now that he’s accusing Schumer of reneging on a pact, TPM asked Marter if his boss would respond in kind and rescind his support for Schumer to be leader.
“Senator Durbin is out of the country this week,” Marter said, without elaboration.
Neither Marter nor House would say more or discuss whether their bosses had spoken in recent days.
Nor is it clear that Durbin would face a serious challenge to keep the No. 2 position. A prospective candidate who has been floated is Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the No. 4 leader who is respected by her colleagues, but she’s known to be close friends with Durbin and has expressed no interest in challenging him.
“Senator Murray is beloved by the caucus and really well respected,” said one Senate Democratic aide who is unaffiliated with any senator in leadership. “And I think she would set a tone that a lot of members would respond to. The question will be whether she’s willing to be so aggressive in pursuing [a race to oust a sitting leader].”
A Murray aide said she has told Schumer she’ll support him for leader, although she hasn’t weighed in on the whip race.