Chuck Schumer Is the Worst Possible Democratic Leader on Foreign Policy at the Worst Possible Time

Schumer will never offer voters an alternative to Trump on the most important questions of national security, because Schumer truly, deeply, and sincerely agrees with him.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 21:  U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) listens during a news conference at the Capitol December 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. Senate Democratic leadership held a year-end news conference to the GOP and Trump Administration.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, listens during a news conference at the Capitol on Dec. 21, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Donald Trump chose Gina Haspel, who supervised torture during the George W. Bush administration, to run the Central Intelligence Agency. He violated and withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. He bombed Syria. He moved America’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He’s continued the United States collaboration with Saudi Arabia on waging brutal war on Yemen. He first threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea with “fire and fury,” and then, last Thursday, spoke of North Korea being “totally decimated” by the U.S.

Trump’s frightening and erratic approach to foreign policy has galvanized grassroots opposition, so Democrats desperately need a prominent leader who can both fuel and channel that energy, while motivating the Democratic Party’s base for the 2018 midterms with a vision of a starkly different foreign policy.

Instead, Democrats have Chuck Schumer.

Schumer, a New Yorker who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1980 and then the Senate in 1998, is the upper chamber’s minority leader. He is thus, since both houses of Congress and the White House are held by Republicans, formally the highest ranking Democratic official in America.

Schumer’s positions on domestic policy leave much to be desired, but not on every issue. By contrast, his views on foreign policy are largely indistinguishable from the Republican Party in general and Trump specifically.

A look back at Schumer’s history demonstrates just why it has been so difficult for Democrats to “resist” Trump with him at the helm.

  • In the end, Schumer did vote against Haspel’s nomination. However, he did not publicly commit to doing so during the weeks leading up to the vote, which lessened pressure against other Democrats in the Senate who were tempted to support her. Schumer also did not whip the Democratic Caucus to oppose Haspel. In the end, her nomination cruised 54-45, with six Democrats voting yes — meaning that enough Republicans voted no that if Schumer had held his caucus together, Haspel would not have been sworn in at the CIA on Monday. Of course, it would have been difficult for Schumer to lead any effort to stop Haspel with a straight face. During a 2004 hearing, Schumer sympathetically told then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, “There are probably very few people in this room or in America who would say that torture should never, ever be used. … It’s easy to sit back in the armchair and say that torture can never be used. But when you’re in the foxhole, it’s a very different deal.” (Schumer did say he was concerned about torture being used “willy-nilly.”)
  • At the beginning of the Trump administration, Schumer voted for Mike Pompeo’s nomination to head the CIA. Pompeo is a member of the Christian far right who’s said that terrorism will continue “until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ is our savior, is truly the only solution for our world.” While Schumer did vote against Pompeo’s nomination to be Secretary of State, he similarly did not whip against it and kept his decision to himself until it would have no impact. The Senate foreign relations committee barely approved Pompeo, who was then confirmed by the full Senate with the support of seven members of the Democratic Caucus.
  • Even as Israel was slaughtering protesters in Gaza, Schumer released a statement in which he said, “I applaud President Trump” for moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, calling the move “long overdue.” He also proudly noted that he had been a co-sponsor of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. Schumer has almost always moved in lockstep with the Israeli right, and on several occasions he’s learnedly explained that there cannot be peace between Israel and Palestinians, because Palestinians “don’t believe in the Tora,” and so “you have to force them to say, Israel is here to stay.” Thus, Schumer says, it makes sense for Israel “to strangle [Gaza] economically.” The United Nations has found that the Israeli blockade of Gaza will render it “uninhabitable” for humans by 2020.
  • Schumer was one of only four Senate Democrats who voted against the Iran nuclear deal that was negotiated by the Obama administration. The U.S., Schumer said, “would be better off without it.” In 2015, when Republicans invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the U.S. Congress in an effort to derail the Iran deal, Schumer praised Netanyahu’s speech as “powerful.”
  • Schumer supported Trump’s bombing of Syria, both in 2017 (it was “the right thing to do”) and in 2018 (it was “appropriate”).
  • Earlier this year, the Trump administration successfully pushed to increase the Defense Department’s budget by 10 percent, to $700 billion, or more than one-third of all federal non-entitlement spending. Schumer announced, “We fully support President Trump’s Defense Department’s request.”
  • When Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., introduced a bill to halt U.S. support for the Saudi war against Yemen, Schumer voted for it, but, as with Haspel and Pompeo, did not use his power in the Democratic Caucus to whip recalcitrant senators. Ten Democrats voted against it. The vote took place even as Schumer (and other top lawmakers) were meeting with the war’s architect, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
  • Schumer was a vociferous supporter of John Bolton’s 2005 nomination to be the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. “A vote against Bolton,” Schumer proclaimed, “was a vote against Israel.” But Bolton was correctly perceived as so dangerously belligerent that even a Republican-led Senate rejected him. Bolton has since called for the U.S. to attack both Iran and North Korea. (More recently, when Trump chose Bolton as his national security adviser, Schumer mildly stated that Bolton’s positions were “troubling.”)
  • Schumer has attacked Trump’s policy on North Korea — from the right. Meanwhile, when Democratic senators have made attempts to rein in Trump’s terrifying instinct to consider a gigantic war with North Korea, Schumer has been nowhere to be found.
  • Schumer voted in 2002 for the Iraq War, citing Saddam Hussein’s imaginary but “vigorous pursuit of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons.” His statement was later cited frequently by Republicans as evidence that Bush had just made an honest mistake about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction.
  • Schumer voted for the Patriot Act in 2001, and was the House sponsor of its antecedent, the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995.

So, taken together, it’s obvious that Schumer does not, and never will, offer voters an alternative to Trump and Republicans in general on the most important questions of national security. That’s because Schumer truly, deeply, and sincerely agrees with them.

Top photo: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., listens during a news conference at the Capitol on Dec. 21, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

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