Schumer Claims Scalp In Latest Bush Win

The resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has many of the familiar features of President Bush's high-profile second-term failures: the firm resistance, the partisan acrimony, the eventual surrender.

And one hallmark of second-term executive train-wreck: the fingerprints of New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.

The Brooklyn Democrat has been a singular scourge of Bush's unhappy second term. He played a central role in an early, key Bush defeat, the collapse of the deal to sell a major port operator to Dubai Ports World (Remember that one?). 

He was the first senator to call for a special prosecutor to investigate the exposure of former CIA agent Valerie Plame. And he was a leading face of the congressional push to investigate the firings of several United States attorneys, convening hearings that eventually produced Monday's resignation of Gonzales.
"The 'Don't mess with Texas' crowd thinks they're tough. Meet Brooklyn hardball," said Ken Baer, a Democratic strategist.

The Gonzales affair was, for Schumer, a textbook case of his modus operandi. He was a loud, early voice raising the question of firings of U.S. attorneys, diving into the details of the story when the scandal was still bubbling up on liberal blogs. And he followed it relentlessly to the end, emerging Monday as the Democrats lead voice on Gonzales's resignation.

Schumer's hunger for press and his aggressive tone, Hill staffers say, sometimes rankle his colleagues, as they have throughout his career.

But that same aggressiveness, speed and unabashed partisanship make him an effective foil for a White House known, until recently, for the same qualities.

"A lot of senators are always so concerned about appearing senatorial," said Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a group that has been involved in investigations of the Bush Justice Department.

"He is less worried about always seeming so even-handed. He's much more willing to engage in partisanship than other senators."

His unembarrassed politics, his New York roots and his hectic, hard-charging persona have turned Schumer into a target for Republicans looking for a villain.

"Schumer is an old-fashioned liberal New York politician, and they are people who can fight and brawl," said Greg Mueller, a Republican strategist who has been involved in judiciary battles.

"It might not be good for Bush's last year and a half in office, but in the long range having Chuck Schumer as the face of the Democratic Party isn't bad for Republicans."

And sure enough, the Republican National Committee's sole contribution to the Gonzales resignation was an attack on Schumer for turning Gonzales' resignation "into a partisan issue," as its chairman, Mike Duncan, wrote in an e-mail to reporters.

"The appointment of a new attorney general should not be about scoring political points, and it should not be about fundraising for the next election."

Indeed, Schumer's statement on the matter was sent at 8:17 a.m., beating even CNN's news alert to reporters' e-mail inboxes.

And at 11:15, television crews packed his Manhattan office as he reminded them that he had been out front on the issue.

"I'm glad he did [resign] - five months after I first called for him to step down," Schumer said, before underscoring his, and the Democrats', strength.

"We're not looking for a confrontation here. Ideally, the White House will come to us, work with us and there will be no confrontation here."

Schumer's actual influence can often be difficult to disentangle from his high media profile.

Back in New York, he's long been famous for an unending series of Sunday morning press conferences, taking advantage of a slow news day to attach his name to popular causes over which the federal government has little influence - licensing local food vendors, for instance, oexposing cell phone dead zones.

But his jousting with the Bush administration has often had real impact, beginning with his recognition that the federal approval of an obscure deal that would transfer control of some U.S. ports to a company controlled by the government of Dubai would turn into a media juggernaut that would turn congressional Republicans against the White House and deal Bush an early second-term defeat.

His initial press conference on the subject, in February 2006, was largely ignored. But he continued to push the point until Democratic colleagues, and then Republicans, began to sign on.

But Schumer, in an interview in the aftermath of the deal's collapse, saw the issue for what it was:

"I did always think, if it achieved a certain level of visibility, that we could stop it. I thought it would be maybe at the jet-plane level, and it ended up being an intergalactic missile," he said.

Schumer's role that year, raising money and setting strategy for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, helped push Democrats into a slim Senate majority, and made Schumer a player in Senate leadership and on the Judiciary Committee.

Sensitive to the chatter on liberal blogs and to the makings of a big story, Schumer attached himself to the outing of Valerie Plame with an intensity shared by few others in his house of Congress.

"Schumer was more willing to be the first to jump out and say it, and you don't get special prosecutors appointed by talking about it," said Sloan. "It made a big difference."

His role in the Gonzales case was similar. Hill insiders say his high profile, on this and other issues, has occasionally rankled the more decorous chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy. But by the time Gonzales appeared to testify under oath, Schumer's anger and disdain for the attorney general seemed to be shared by all his Democratic peers, and some of the Republicans.

"Chuck's gut instinct on a bad day is better than the brainpower of entire Senate offices on a good day," said a former aide, Risa Heller, who attributed his edge to a "combination of smarts, sheer force of will and just plain chutzpah."
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