This is one story that Sen. Chuck Schumer would rather keep inside the family circle.
Robert Schumer, younger brother of the garrulous New York Democrat, gave $1,000 to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) reelection committee last fall, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The younger Schumer is a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, one of New York City’s top law firms. He has been involved in huge, multibillion-dollar merger and acquisition deals, including Time Warner’s nearly $18 billion purchase of Adelphia Communications’ cable properties several years ago, according to his official bio.
The elder Schumer took his brother’s donation to McConnell in stride, at least publicly.
“This must be Bob’s way of getting back at his older brother for never letting him play basketball with the older kids,” said Brain Fallon, a spokesman for Sen. Schumer.
A person close to the Schumer brothers noted that “Bob is a lifelong Democrat with a long history of giving to Democrats. He was invited to this event by a client and he attended for client-relationship purposes.” Robert Schumer has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Democrats, including his own brother, President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, then Schumer’s colleague in the Senate.
Robert Schumer did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
McConnell aides also declined to comment on the unexpected gift from the Democratic senator’s brother. But the donation is an unusual development amid an increasingly contentious relationship between McConnell and Schumer, one that is bound to get worse headed into the next year as each man positions himself as future leader of the Senate.
Schumer is looking more and more like the heir apparent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as Democratic leader, meaning that his prime opponent in the chamber will be McConnell, who is expected to remain the GOP leader so long as he wins reelection in 2014.
But McConnell will be a top target for Schumer and other top Senate Democrats in the next election cycle, especially if McConnell becomes majority leader after this November.
Already, McConnell is stepping up his own fundraising for 2014 and will soon report more than $4.25 million in his war chest, aides say, a significant amount more than two years out from an election. The last time McConnell faced voters was in 2008, and that amounted to a hard-fought and expensive campaign in which the GOP leader spent more than $20 million and even secured a $1.8 million loan in order to help secure his 6-point victory over Democrat Bruce Lunsford.
There’s already a history of bad blood between Schumer and McConnell.
During that 2008 campaign, Schumer — then chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — unleashed a bevy of attacks on McConnell. But what enraged McConnell was the DSCC’s decision to cut an ad attacking McConnell for striking a deal over the bank bailout, an attack line that the Kentucky Republican said was “beyond the pale” since Schumer helped negotiate the plan and had agreed not to make it a campaign issue.
Schumer has long said he wasn’t responsible for the ad since federal law precluded him from coordinating the contents of that advertisement. And during negotiations over changing Senate rules in January 2011, Schumer broached the subject with McConnell for the first time. McConnell said it no longer bothered him, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions.
But the two men have barely spoken since, and their public attacks on each other have intensified. As Senate GOP leader, McConnell is the chief political operator for his conference, a role that Schumer plays for the Democrats as his caucus’s point person on messaging.
McConnell has accused Schumer of intentionally scuttling the deficit supercommittee last fall in order to gain political advantage and has repeatedly said the New Yorker’s motives rest squarely on 2012 politics, rather than on helping the U.S. economy.
While Schumer spent much of 2011 attacking House Republican leaders, he more recently has taken direct aim at McConnell. In an interview with POLITICO in December, Schumer accused McConnell of botching the politics of 2011, saying the GOP leader was seeing more and more defections and had badly miscalculated in a way that will hurt Republican chances headed into 2012.
“Mitch McConnell started the whole year with a scorched-earth strategy,” Schumer said. “It is beginning to fall apart, and we’re seeing evidence all around us.”
Schumer added: “McConnell sold his troops on a strategy where they would oppose virtually anything important that came through the Senate. I think a lot of his own members are beginning to chafe under that plan because they want to be constructive and actually legislate.”
Schumer said McConnell acted “petty” in a personal exchange with Reid during spending negotiations last year and that his “strategy of don’t do any legislating and obstruct is not as strong as it once was.”
McConnell’s aides fired back, saying that Schumer was espousing pure Democratic spin and had ignored the fact that Democrats control the Senate and the White House.