Chuck Schumer is set to get a big promotion – and that’s welcome news to Wall Street.
The veteran Democratic senator from New York is widely expected to take Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s job when he retires at the end of 2016. Reid, who announced he would not be running for reelection Friday morning, quickly endorsed his New York colleague for the role.
Schumer’s ascension to the top Democratic position in the Senate – and even possibly to Senate majority leader if his party regains control of the chamber – is a boon for the finance and business communities, which have worked closely with the New York native and enjoyed his support for decades. It also puts an industry ally in charge of the Democratic caucus as the party’s economic populists, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, have grown increasingly vocal.
Former Republican New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, who recently served as the head of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, said Schumer “knows everybody in the financial community, as it’s based in New York, on a first-name basis.”
“It’ll be a big plus to have somebody like that if he ends up being Democratic leader,” Gregg said. “He may not agree with you, but at least you’re going to get a fair hearing and he’s going to understand what you’re talking about.”
The promotion is a long time coming for Schumer, who has been vice chair of the Democratic Conference since 2007.
Earlier this year, the senator passed on becoming ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, ending months of speculation and making room for Brown, a vocal critic of the big banks, to take the position. It was presumed that the decision at least in part had to do with the possibility of Reid’s retirement.
As a member of the Senate Banking and Finance committees, Schumer is well-versed on financial regulatory issues, and business leaders say he is a fierce champion of the industry in New York and nationwide. Over the years, Schumer has supported the financial and business sectors on some of their top agenda items, earning him the reputation of being a pro-business industry ally.
Just several months ago, the senior New York senator played a central role in the drawn-out negotiations on Capitol Hill to extend a government terrorism risk insurance program that was set to expire at the end of the year. Keeping the program alive was a top priority for many corporations and the insurance industry.
Schumer also has close personal relationships with many of New York’s financial elite. During his time as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Schumer actively courted deep-pocketed donors in the industry.
“From a New York perspective, there’s nothing that could be better than having a New Yorker at the top of the Senate leadership,” said Izzy Klein, a former senior Schumer staffer and principal at the Podesta Group, a lobbying and PR firm based in Washington, D.C. “From Main Street issues to the financial issues and everything in between, he’s always kept New York at the top of his agenda and that will continue as majority leader.”
But being a New York Democratic senator has also required a careful balancing act.
Following the financial crisis, some banking and business executives were disappointed that Schumer was not more vocal in his public support for the banking industry.
As the Senate’s top Democrat, Schumer will have to manage the party divide between the pro-business faction and the progressive wing of the party, led by senators like Warren.
On Friday, Democracy for America, a group behind the campaign to draft Warren for president, released a statement pushing the Massachusetts Democrat to pursue Reid’s job and suggesting that Schumer was too cozy with Wall Street.
“The election for Senate next Democratic leader shouldn’t be a slam dunk for any early front-runner, especially someone closer to Wall Street while the Wall Street wing of the party is dying and the Elizabeth Warren wing is rising,” the organization’s spokesman Neil Sroka said.
Kathy Wylde, president of the business coalition Partnership for New York City, said it was only natural for Schumer to be “more circumspect about his advocacy for New York and Wall Street” as his national profile has grown.
But that doesn’t change Schumer’s status as a top supporter of the industry, Wylde added.
“His knowledge and support for the industry has been consistent,” Wylde said. “We’re certainly far better off with his knowledge and respect for the importance of the industry.”