Politics & Policy

The Inquisitor

Charles Schumer, leader of the anti-Bush crusade

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the August 8, 2005, issue of National Review.

Minutes before the Senate Judiciary Committee began hearings on the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the federal bench in 2002, Democratic senator Chuck Schumer of New York was introduced to Estrada’s mother. She informed the senator that when she was living in New York four years earlier, she had voted for him over the incumbent Republican, Alfonse D’Amato. “I hope you’ll repay the favor,” she added.

Schumer chuckled at her request. He took his seat, gaveled the hearing to order, and delighted in proclaiming her support. Then he proceeded to do everything in his power to avoid repaying the favor: He demanded sensitive documents, gave voice to accusations that Estrada was a right-wing nutjob, and speculated about the nominee’s honesty: “I think we have some credibility problems here.” At one awkward moment during his persistent badgering of Estrada, the senator snapped: “This takes a yes or no answer if you’re being truthful with this committee.”

This colorful performance was vintage Schumer — hungry for whatever scraps of publicity Estrada’s mother might confer upon him, but also committed to the crafty partisanship that has made him one of the Senate’s most belligerent Democrats. “There’s a lot we do not know about Miguel Estrada,” Schumer said at the hearing — even though Schumer himself apparently knew enough to condemn the man, just a few days earlier in The Nation, as “a Stealth missile — with a nose cone — coming out of the right wing’s deepest silo.”

Chuck Schumer is New York’s other liberal senator. Whereas Hillary Rodham Clinton may be more important to her party’s long-term ambitions, Schumer is undoubtedly more significant to its near-term goals: He is perhaps the key Democrat sitting on the Senate panel that soon will weigh in on the nomination of Judge John G. Roberts Jr. to fill the first Supreme Court vacancy in more than a decade. In this regard, he is more important than chairman Patrick Leahy, more critical than attack-dog Ted Kennedy. “He’s the smartest guy they’ve got,” says Todd Gaziano of the Heritage Foundation. . .

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John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.

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