Chuck Schumer: Senator Cupid?

While Republicans talk about family values, Chuck Schumer is busy promoting them one staffer at a time.

While Republicans talk about family values, Chuck Schumer is busy promoting them one staffer at a time.

New York Times (“With a Full Quiver, Senator Schumer Is Quick to Release Cupid’s Arrows“):

Schumer staff members, put simply, like to marry each other. There have been 10 weddings so far, and two more scheduled this fall — an average of nearly one “Schumer Marriage” (his term) for each year he has spent in the Senate.

Cupid’s arrow lands where it will, but many of the couples say that Mr. Schumer, a New York Democrat, has an unusual knack for guiding its journey. He keeps close track of office romances, quotes marriage-friendly Scripture (“God to man: be fruitful and multiply”), and is known to cajole, nag, and outright pester his staff (at least those he perceives as receptive to such pestering) toward connubial bliss.

Forget Master of the Senate. This is the Yenta of the Senate.

“What’s the holdup?” the senator asks couples who are dillydallying on an engagement. “Did you get a ring yet?” Other could-be-marrieds receive a simple instruction: “Get moving!”

“He would just keep saying, ‘Let’s go already,’ ” recalled Sean Sweeney, a top Democratic strategist who began dating the woman who would become his wife when they were on Mr. Schumer’s staff in 1999. When he proposed, the senator reacted “like a sportscaster,” Mr. Sweeney said. “ ’Goooooal!’ ”

The encouragement rarely stops at the altar. Mr. Schumer is described by aides as a fabulous wedding guest, quick to request a Jefferson Starship song from the D.J. and eager to dance with the bride. And his focus, like many a politician’s, never strays far from his legacy: first comes Schumer Marriage, then come Schumer Babies.

“Have kids; have a lot of kids,” Mr. Schumer, who has two daughters, is known to intone. “Start early and keep having them.”

Sometimes, Mr. Schumer greets a former staff member, “So, is your wife pregnant again?” Other times, he does not even bother with the question. One former aide, who asked not to be named, recalled seeing the senator bump into a recently married couple, both Schumer alumni. “He just stared down at her midsection and said, ‘Well?’ ”

Depending on how one looks at such things, this is either endearing or creepy.

Scott Lemieux observes, “Apparently working for Chuck Schumer is like having your most irritating busybody relative for a boss. Only when it’s your boss his intrusions into things that are none of his inherent concern are not merely irritating but highly inappropriate.” Ann Althouse agrees, commenting, “He sounds like the Steve Carrell character in ‘The Office’ — the inappropriate boss, who doesn’t know the normal boundaries.” She adds, “The NYT thinks this is cute, but you know damned well that if a conservative politician were doing this he would be accused of making the workplace a hostile environment.”

Despite this rare alignment of the political poles, I’m not so sure they’re right.

We have, within my adult lifetime, come to recognize the unequal power relationships that exist in the workplace and set up a set of norms, rules, and laws surrounding our conduct in the office. And that’s almost all to the good. But we need to, at the same time, allow for flexibility based on the nature of the workplace and interpersonal dynamics between actual individual human beings. Something that’s generally inappropriate may well be perfectly fine, even welcome, in specific instances.

A Senator has a very different relationship with his personal staff than almost any other boss has with his employees. Yes, they’re paid with our tax dollars and deserve the same protection from sexual harassment and other illegal conduct as any other worker. But the fact of the matter is that they function more like a family than an ordinary workplace. They’re hand selected for political and personal loyalty to an extent that would be inappropriate almost anywhere else, spend nights and weekends together under stressful conditions, and share a degree of personal confidence across hierarchical lines that would be unusual elsewhere.

Schumer’s taking on the role of patriarch for the staff doesn’t strike me as worrisome in that context. His exuberance at staffers’ engagements and pregnancies is rather cute. His prodding people to get married and pregnant certainly has the potential to cross a line but isn’t necessarily problematic. The incident described above where Schumer “stared down at her midsection and said, ‘Well?'” sets off alarm bells; but even that might be perfectly appropriate depending on the nature of his relationship with the happy couple. If he was at the wedding and they have a personal bond that allows a jovial give-and-take, it’s perfectly fine. If the woman is some low level staffer who would feel uncomfortable joking with the Senator, then it’s creepy behavior.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Gender Issues, US Politics,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Scott says:

    I kind of think this is kind of charming. Yes, it could be annoying but a Senate staff is not a normal place of employment. A common cause can create a sense of family. Schumer is acting the stereotypical Jewish grandmother role.

  2. Eric Florack says:

    Another way of putting it, is creating a cult of personality.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    I agree that there are limits on how much the law should intrude on these kinds of relationships. People before policy. If someone tells Schumer to knock it off, then he should. Otherwise it’s not really a concern.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Eric Florack: He’s a United States Senator and this is his hand-selected personal staff. Of course it’s a cult of personality.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: Exactly right. Alas, “People before policy” is harder to carry out than a set of rigid, impersonal rules. I can live with that.

  6. steve says:

    He quotes Scripture? A Democrat? Even the Devil….? Wonder if the marriages last?

    Steve

  7. Eric Florack says:

    @James Joyner: So, we agree.

    Hmm.

    In any event, I wasn’t to the stage of making a judgement on the matter.

    Yet.

  8. Tano says:

    thank you for not giving us a picture of Schumer in diapers with a bow and arrow….

  9. al-Ameda says:

    Forget Master of the Senate. This is the Yenta of the Senate.

    says it all ….

  10. I don’t think the law should get involved, but yet I find this incredibly creepy. It reminds me how in a lot of ways prominent politicians think they’re feudal lords.

  11. Jim Treacher says:

    Of course Chuck Schumer wants people to have as many babies as possible. Somebody will have to pay for all this crap.

  12. JKB says:

    Interesting how everyone seems to be eager to adopt the special privilege for special born attitude. Or is it better phrased as, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.

    I understand your viewpoint but you seem to ignore the “handpicked” aspect makes the employee more vulnerable to abuse. How could a senate staffer tell the Senator to knock it off and ever hope to continue, not in their current position but in their field. A senator has the power to see they never receive “government” permission for any activity in the future. You know, those licenses, permits, approvals, etc. some here seem to love. It’s no like politicians are known for being petty and vindictive.

    Perhaps if you as a bright young college graduate decide to follow your adoration of politicians, you don’t deserve protection from “creepy” or even endearing behavior by your boss who can destroy your very ability to live in America but then we could make that argument about those pursuing careers in business, academia, etc.

  13. bill says:

    no “same sex” ones yet, not very liberal i guess!?

  14. Moderate Mom says:

    I love the picture of Sen. Schumer doing the “white man’s dance”. The only thing that would make it funnier is if he was biting his lower lip at the same time.

  15. Sometimes, Mr. Schumer greets a former staff member, “So, is your wife pregnant again?” Other times, he does not even bother with the question. One former aide, who asked not to be named, recalled seeing the senator bump into a recently married couple, both Schumer alumni. “He just stared down at her midsection and said, ‘Well?’ ”

    This reminds me of one comedian who did a bit about how, after getting annoyed with older relatives constantly asking him when he and his wife were gonna have kids, started responding by asking them when they were going to die in exactly the same tone of voice.

  16. wr says:

    @Eric Florack: “Another way of putting it, is creating a cult of personality.”

    Another way of putting it is having a personality. You might look into that someday.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    Another way of putting it, is creating a cult of personality.

    And with that, we see that Chuck Schumer is no different than Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Kim Jong-il…the link is just so obvious…

  18. al-Ameda says:

    @An Interested Party:

    And with that, we see that Chuck Schumer is no different than Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Kim Jong-il…the link is just so obvious…

    or Barbra Streisand and Ed Koch for that matter.

  19. Bijan Parsia says:

    I (and many others) wouldn’t find this welcome behavior inside a family.

    There are lots of work situations that involve a hand picked team partially selected for loyalty and yet somehow they function within normal professional boundaries.

  20. Rob in CT says:

    Working for Schumer sounds irritating. That’s all I got here.

  21. Bijan Parsia says:

    @Bijan Parsia:

    Oops, “would find”.