U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on a group of breakaway Democrats in the New York Senate to caucus with the Democratic Party, enabling the party to control the legislative chamber.
Currently, Democrats enjoy a 32–31 numerical majority in the state Senate, but a group of nine Democrats have chosen to form a majority coalition with the Republicans. Eight Democrats are members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a caucus that has a power-sharing arrangement with the GOP, and a ninth lawmaker, Simcha Felder, caucuses with the GOP.
Schumer was asked about the matter on Monday during an event in Brewster, New York, where the Senator hoped to pressure New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to adopt positive train control.
“The IDC, they’re elected as Democrats and they should caucus with the Democrats and create a Democratic majority,” Schumer said. “That’s the right thing to do. I have worked very hard through the years to help elect Democrats and create a Democratic majority in the Senate.”
“The IDC, they don’t run as Republicans, they just caucus with the Republicans. That’s wrong,” he added. “They ought to caucus and work with the Democrats.”
Schumer joins a chorus of top Democrats who have urged the breakaway Democrats to return to the fold. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has been outspoken about the need for the IDC to form a majority with Democrats, as have all 18 Democrats representing New York in the U.S. House.
Candice Giove, a spokeswoman for the IDC, said in an email message that members of the IDC have the “greatest respect for Senator Schumer.”
“However, on this issue he is wrong,” Giove said. “The IDC, a third separate conference, has never caucused with Republicans and has consistently helped to elect Democrats throughout this state.”
Indeed, IDC members do not caucus with Republicans, but the group’s power-sharing agreement with the GOP minority, together with Felder’s membership in the GOP caucus, ensured Republican control of the state senate in the 2016 legislative session.
Last Thursday, two activists affiliated with the Brooklyn chapter of Indivisible, a network of progressive grassroots groups, penned an op-ed in the New York Daily News admonishing Schumer for his “intolerable silence” on the matter.
“Even though he is one of the nation’s two most powerful Democrats, representing a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2–1, Schumer inexcusably tolerates illegitimate Republican control of one house of New York’s Legislature, the state Senate, with the help of a group of breakaway Democrats,” Liat Olenick and Christopher Denicola wrote.
Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and several New York–based progressive activists praised Schumer for his remarks on Monday.
“Senate Democrats have always had a great friend in Chuck Schumer and we appreciate his support,” Stewart-Cousins said in a statement. “More and more Democratic leaders are standing up and calling on the IDC to respect the wishes of New Yorkers who voted numerous times for a Democratic Senate majority and want Democrats to work together. The Senate Democrats agree.”
The New York chapter of the Working Families Party said it was “good to see” Schumer weigh in on the matter.
The IDC formed after an internal party dispute in 2011, and for years it remained largely off the radar of national Democrats.
In 2013, Democrats also had a 33-seat majority, which would have enabled them to control the Senate, even without Felder. But the IDC’s insistence on remaining in a power-sharing coalition with Republicans prevented that from happening.
Then, losses in the 2014 elections wiped away Democrats’ thin numerical majority.
But in the November 2016 election, Democrats won a numerical majority again, reviving grassroots scrutiny on the breakaway bloc. The election of President Donald Trump also heightened progressive political activism, bringing the IDC to the attention of many left-leaning New Yorkers who were previously unaware of its existence. Progressive activists have organized demonstrations outside the offices of the IDC’s members, at times attracting up to 100 protesters.
Members of the New York Senate’s mainstream Democratic caucus argue that the IDC’s arrangement has prevented them from passing important pieces of legislation, and has delayed or diluted other bills.
“They are giving power to the Republicans to decide whether those issues get brought up at all,” Deputy Democratic Leader Michael Gianaris told HuffPost in May. “Things that do get done, get done much later than they should or get watered down.”
They further claim that the IDC members choose to work with Republicans for the perks it affords them, including leadership posts on Senate committees. The GOP majority even rewards the dissenting Democrats with financial stipends, known as “lulus,” that are normally reserved for committee chairmen.
This article was updated to clarify the IDC’s role within the Senate, and to note Democrats’ previous numerical majority in 2013.
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