WASHINGTON ― After the deal was done, it was time for some New York-style ribbing. Brooklyn’s own Chuck Schumer plunged right in on Queens-born Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, the president had unexpectedly agreed with Schumer, the Democrats’ Senate leader, and Nancy Pelosi, his House counterpart, to put off major battles over the federal budget and national debt until December. It was widely seen as a victory for Democrats and a humiliation for Republicans.
Trump invited Schumer, whom he’d once described as the “head clown” of the Democratic Party, to join him in briefing the press on the deal.
Schumer, with a smile, demurred.
“If I do that, you could say something unexpected,” Schumer said with a laugh. “Then I’d have to explain it.” Trump smiled in response.
Then, turning to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Schumer added, “And I bet you have that problem a lot more than I do.”
Everyone laughed at that one.
The moment was caught on camera by photographers who used telephoto lenses to peer through an Oval Office window. This account of what was said comes from friends of Schumer’s, to whom he recounted the conversation. His office declined to comment.
The deal to provide hurricane relief, while hiking the debt ceiling and funding the government for just three months, was indeed a gift to Democrats. With majorities in both chambers of Congress, the GOP will be vulnerable to pressure on immigration and other matters as a Christmas-time shutdown of the government and its borrowing power looms.
It was a moment evocative of the master wheeler-dealer Lyndon Johnson ― with Schumer, not Trump, in the role of mastermind ― and it was entirely unexpected. The New York senator had not talked to the president in months, and neither Schumer nor anyone else in the room thought that Trump would accept the three-month deal.
But if Schumer was lucky this week, he deserves it. He’s admired by his Democratic colleagues and even by many Republicans for his knowledge, his shrewdness, his businesslike approachability ― and, at 66 years of age, his energy and almost childlike enjoyment of his job.
“He simply loves what he does,” said Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).
A near-parody of studiousness ― reportedly perfect SATs, Harvard and Harvard Law attendance, a disheveled mien that led one magazine to call him a “zhlub, in a good way” ― Schumer does not manage by LBJ-like instinct. It’s all preparation.
As his colleagues describe his methods,…