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Schumer proposes Dem leadership shake-up

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is proposing a change to his leadership team’s structure next Congress that appears likely to promote Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Amy Klobuchar, according to two Democratic sources familiar with the matter and a copy of the proposal obtained by POLITICO on Wednesday.

With Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) planning to vacate the No. 3 leadership slot, the Senate majority leader is suggesting eliminating the position of assistant leader from the caucus’ hierarchy. He also is creating a new role titled deputy conference secretary, according to messages sent to Democratic staffers on Wednesday afternoon.

Schumer is not imposing radical changes to his team after a successful defense of his Senate majority, and he appears set to keep a structure that includes a wide ideological swath of members at the table. The New York Democrat often makes big decisions after consulting across the spectrum of his members, and he is continuing that strategy as Murray exits the formal leadership team.

After Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Schumer proposes that the next position is the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, currently helmed by Stabenow (D-Mich.), followed by the chair of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, a position currently held by Klobuchar (D-Minn.). It’s a return to where Schumer once stood before he became leader, as the DPCC chairman and No. 3 under former Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Meanwhile, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) continues to seek broader reforms in a top-tier leadership team that includes three committee chairs.

Whitehouse proposes that starting in 2025, the whip, DPCC chair and steering chair would not be able to also hold prime committee leadership roles. Durbin is currently Judiciary chair; Stabenow runs the Agriculture Committee, and Klobuchar heads the Rules Committee.

Schumer’s leadership team is sprawling, with several tiers and meetings on Monday evening and Tuesday mornings followed by a full caucus lunch. Still, there is some consternation among more junior members that it’s difficult to crack the top rungs. Senate Republicans have term limits on every top five leadership slot except for Republican leader.

The top Democratic and Republican leaders give weekly press conferences each week as well, making the top jobs more visible. Murray is leaving the top leadership as she prepares to chair the Appropriations Committee and become Senate pro tempore, which places her in the line of presidential succession.

In 2020, Whitehouse challenged Durbin as he sought to become Judiciary Committee while still maintaining the No. 2 leadership position. The caucus, however, voted to allow Durbin to keep both roles, provided he and other more senior leaders offer to give prime subcommittee gavels.

The Senate Democratic caucus is expected to discuss the new rules changes Tuesday, Nov. 29, with a vote slated for Dec. 1, one week before the caucus’ leadership elections. The ballots will be secret.

In addition to the top four leaders, Schumer’s broader leadership team proposal includes two vice chairs of the conference, positions currently held by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.); chair of outreach, currently held by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.); vice chairs of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, currently held by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.); conference secretary, currently held by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis); vice chair of outreach, currently held by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.); and the new deputy conference secretary position.

There’s no guarantee, however, that all of those senators will hold the same positions in the new Congress. And Schumer still needs to find someone to chair the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, currently run by Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.). Before the Thanksgiving recess, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) said he wasn’t ruling it out while Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) said he is not currently interested.

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