In the final hours ahead of the vote on Joe Biden’s Covid relief bill, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia had thrown his fellow Democrats a curveball. He had effectively put the entire bill in jeopardy by possibly joining Republicans on unemployment benefits.
Manchin seemed immovable. The White House legislative affairs team couldn’t get him to relent. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Democrat in the chamber, met with him as well, but couldn’t get him to budge, according to two Democrats with knowledge of those discussions. Eventually Manchin and Biden got on the phone directly, twice. The unemployment benefits in the bill were scaled back by a few weeks and the bill regained momentum.
The episode underscores an important dynamic between Schumer and Biden. For decades, the two Democrats have been striving to get the jobs they now have -Schumer as the Senate majority leader under a Democratic president, and Biden the president with his party in control of both chambers of Congress.
But now the two Democrats have to wrangle with a sometimes unruly and razor thin Democratic majority in Congress amid an ongoing global pandemic and a teetering economy. For Biden, successfully accomplishing his policy goals depends on close coordination with Schumer. For Schumer, working with Biden and ushering through his agenda could decide the length of time he’s majority leader or even if he has to worry about a primary challenge from the left.
While Biden and Schumer have run in very powerful Democratic circles and served as second-in-command to party leaders who fostered strong relationships, their history together is comparatively thin for two Democrats who have been in national politics for decades. They have a good relationship, but they aren’t besties.
“Look, are they bosom buddies? No,” said a former Obama administration official. “But is there like a great deal of respect and fondness for one another? Yes. They’re pretty different people but I think they’re mutually fans of each other. This is not a situation where their kids hang out or they go to family barbecues.”
Biden, 78, and Schumer, 71, are Democratic party mainstays. Both are known for their love of retail politicking and talking. Both come from comparatively humble beginnings. Both of them have spent decades in the Senate. And both of them have sometimes aligned more closely with the more moderate wing of the Democratic party and at other times the more liberal wing.
Read more of Daniel Strauss’s report here: Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer – a key relationship to a successful presidency