74ºF

Schumer navigates rocky terrain as impeachment trial unfolds

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Sen. Chuck Schumer stood at the finish line of a half-marathon in New York City, slapping high-fives. Then he was off to Washington for a meeting about the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. By the end of the night, he was back in New York, insisting at a news conference that witnesses are needed for a fair impeachment trial.

The whiplash schedule comes as the New York Democrat tries to navigate the tough terrain as the Senate moves into the third impeachment trial of a sitting president in American history while also trying to maintain his constant presence dealing with a host of local issues in New York.

“I can do two things at once, and I'm always going to do that. I have always been able to,” Schumer said in an interview with The Associated Press.

For the impeachment trial to be fair, Democrats say it's imperative that the Senate subpoena testimony from four current and former White House officials and request documents that Trump blocked House investigators from receiving. With the GOP controlling the Senate 53-47, they'll need support from at least four Republicans to reach the necessary 51-vote majority.

Some, like Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, may join with Democrats to support a motion to call witnesses. But Collins is also a top target for Democrats in this year's elections and has said Schumer seems more interested in ensuring she’s out of a job than anything else.

“Make no mistake about it: We will force votes on witnesses and documents, and it will be up to four Republicans to side with the constitution, to side with our democracy, to side with rule of law,” Schumer said.

The way Democrats see it, if the half-dozen or so at-risk Republicans vote against Schumer’s push for impeachment witnesses, they’ll be seen as carrying water for Trump, which could end their reelection chances. If they vote alongside Democrats, it’ll be a win, even as Schumer and other Democrats recognize there’s almost no chance the Republican-led Senate will convict the president.

Republicans say it's Democrats who will pay a political cost for impeachment.

“Chuck Schumer made it clear he intended to take a page from Nancy Pelosi’s playbook and turn this into a political circus. Democrats in battleground states across the country will suffer the consequences because of it," said Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The impeachment case centers on Trump's dealings with Ukraine's president and whether he abused his office by seeking an investigation into a political rival. Trump's legal team asserts that he did “absolutely nothing wrong" and urged the Senate to swiftly reject an impeachment case that it called “flimsy" and a “dangerous perversion of the Constitution."

Schumer and Trump, both New Yorkers, have known each other for years, but they aren't exactly on good terms. Trump has derided the longtime senator as a liberal hack, and Schumer has been one of the most outspoken critics of Trump's actions in office.

At home, Schumer faces rocky territory, an unusual position for him, with a potential far-left primary challenge in the next election and a fairly large swath of the state that voted for Trump in 2016. But even in those districts, primarily in upstate New York and on Long Island, Schumer secured a high majority of the vote in his last race — and he makes it a point to visit and address local issues.

There’s been some criticism from progressives in the party that Schumer is exerting too much energy on his signature constituent issues — the size of airline seats, the sale of recalled merchandise and bomb-sniffing technology in New York’s airports and rail terminals, among other topics — and not enough on the impeachment fight and flipping Senate seats for Democrats.

“People said this when I became minority leader: 'How you going to have time to be minority leader and take care of your district? You'll never do the 62 counties,’" he said, referencing an annual commitment he’s made for the last two decades to tour all 62 counties in New York state.

“God gave me a lot of energy,” he quipped.

On a recent trip, Schumer boarded an eight-seat, two-propeller plane with a body so small he could not stand up straight inside and headed off to make the last two stops on his annual county tour.

The first was Johnstown, a city of 8,500 — in a county with about 90% Republican voters — where Schumer stood shoulder-to-shoulder with firefighters in front of a polished truck he helped procure a few years ago. He lamented the federal government wasn’t awarding enough funding to fire departments in New York to hire new recruits and to purchase new trucks and safety gear.

“It is important for him to show up,” said Vern Jackson, the Republican mayor of Johnstown who posed for a photo with Schumer after the announcement. “I think it is important to show your face here, at least to show there is interest in the county.”

In the car between events, Schumer was dialing his flip phone, getting constant updates from his staff in Washington about what other Democrats and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had been saying about the impeachment inquiry and giving the final sign-off on a letter demanding the White House turn over documents and emails ahead of the impeachment trial.

Even in a majority Republican district, the senior senator from New York is a celebrity — and aside from reporters, not a single person he met during the trip asked him about impeachment. At a deli near Hudson Falls, patrons were more focused on local projects than what was happening in the Beltway.

Later in the day, Schumer visited a heifer farm in Hudson Falls, where he called on federal officials to conduct a study on farmer and rancher suicides, citing a suicide rate that is 3 1/2 times the national average.

On the ride home, he grabbed a Tupperware container of latkes his wife made as he continued strategizing about the next steps in the impeachment inquiry. Less than an hour after he was back in New York City, Schumer was before a bank of television cameras, again calling on McConnell to make a deal.