Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday became the first Jewish Senate majority leader and the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in U.S. history.
Addressing the Senate for the first time as majority leader, Schumer appeared briefly overwhelmed and took a moment to collect himself.
“I need to catch my breath. So much has happened,” he said.
Schumer, who first won election to the House of Representatives in 1980, has served in the Senate since January 1999. He was chosen minority leader by his fellow Democrats in 2016 to replace Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who did not seek reelection.
“Today, the threat to our democracy from the presidency itself has ended, but the challenges we face as a nation remain,” Schumer said in a floor speech after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in as president and vice president, respectively.
Drew Angerer via Getty Images Chuck Schumer, then still the Senate minority leader, arrives for the inauguration of President Joe Biden at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2021.
Schumer noted the history made by Harris, who became the first Black, Asian and female vice president, as well as by the new Democratic senators sworn in on Wednesday: Alex Padilla, the first Latino senator from California; Raphael Warnock, the first Black senator from Georgia; and Jon Ossoff, the first Jewish senator from Georgia.
After a somewhat disappointing performance by his party in Senate races during the Nov. 3 elections, Schumer’s ascension to the top post came as a surprise even to him. It wasn’t until early January ― after Democrats shocked the political world by winning two runoff elections in Georgia ― that Schumer could breathe a welcome sigh of relief.
“This is not the path we chose to get here, but we’re here,” he said earlier this month.
Among the top challenges for Schumer as he takes control of a Senate split 50-50, with Harris casting the tie-breaking vote when necessary, is to hammer out an agreement on Senate procedures and the makeup of committees. Now- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is demanding that Democrats commit to preserving the legislative filibuster before agreeing to move forward. That suggestion is running into resistance from some Democratic senators.
“We should just have a simple organizing resolution. This is not the time to make decisions like that. This is a time to figure out how you’re going to share power in a 50-50 Senate,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) told HuffPost on Wednesday.
A lengthy delay in passing an organizing resolution to formalize the makeup of committees could stymie Biden’s hopes for speedy confirmations of his Cabinet nominees. At the moment, Republicans still control majorities on all Senate committees.