Charles Schumer was born into a Jewish family on November 23, 1950 in Brooklyn, New York, where he was raised. He campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy in 1968, and went on to earn an AB from Harvard University in 1971 and a JD from Harvard Law School in 1974. He passed the New York State Bar Exam in 1975 but never practiced law, pursuing instead a career in politics.
After serving three terms in the New York State Assembly from 1974-80, Schumer was elected in 1980 to represent New York's 16th congressional district, defeating three-term Republican incumbent Alfonse D'Amato. During Schumer's tenure (1981-99) in the U.S. House of Representatives, his district was renumbered twice—as the 10th in 1983, and the 9th in 1993.
In 1994 Schumer and California Senator Dianne Feinstein authored the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act—commonly known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban—a ten-year statute that outlawed semi-automatic rifles, shotguns, and handguns possessing certain features.
In 1998 Schumer was elected to the U.S. Senate. His candidacy was backed by the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a Communist Party USA splinter group. In subsequent years, Schumer also received support from the Working Families Party.
In 2004, Schumer, while advocating civil unions for homosexual couples, opposed a same-sex-marriage amendment and stated that marriage should be defined only as a union between one man and one woman. But his views on this issue evolved dramatically over the next few years, and in March 2009 the senator announced his support for gay marriage, saying: “It’s time. Equality is something that has always been a hallmark of America and no group should be deprived of it.” In December 2009 he aggressively lobbied members of the New York State Senate who were undecided in their position on legislation designed to legalize gay marriage. And in 2013 he praised a Supreme Court ruling that struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. “The march to equality in America is unstoppable,” said Schumer.
In 2009-10, Schumer was a key supporter of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—i.e., Obamacare—calling it a “historic” bill that not only would “help over 30 million Americans … gain access to affordable health insurance,” but would also “cu[t] the federal deficit by $143 billion over 10 years and up to $1.3 trillion in the second decade.”
When the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in February 2013 projected that some 3 million people ultimately would stop working in order to lower their household incomes so they could qualify for Obamacare's taxpayer-funded subsidies, Schumer explained that “many American workers” would now “have freedom … to do things that they couldn’t [previously] do.” “The single mom who’s raising three kids [and] has to keep a job because of healthcare,” he elaborated, “can now spend some time raising those kids. That’s a family value.”
On March 12, 2012, Schumer joined Tom Udall, Al Franken, and five other Democrat senators in writing a letter to IRS officials, urging the agency to give extra scrutiny to the activities of conservative “social welfare organizations” that were applying for tax-exempt status. The letter warned of “abuse of the tax code by political groups focused on federal election activities.” Fourteen months later, news broke that the IRS had been engaged in a massive scandal whereby it had delayed and derailed tax-exemption applications filed by hundreds of organizations with conservative indicators like “Tea Party,” “Patriots,” or “9/12” in their names. In a January 2014 speech to the Center for American Progress, Schumer, unfazed by the controversy over the IRS's illegal abuse of power, said candidly: “There are many things that can be done administratively by the IRS and other government agencies” to thwart the political efforts of conservative groups.
In April 2012, Schumer introduced a bill designed to eliminate laws like SB 1070, an Arizona statute deputizing state police to check with federal authorities on the immigration status of criminal suspects. The senator charged that such laws would inevitably result in “untrained officers ... arresting anyone and everyone who might fit the preconceived profile of an illegal immigrant.”
In 2013 Schumer led the so-called “Gang of Eight”—four Democrat and four Republican U.S. senators—in the push to pass a sweeping, 844-page immigration-reform bill aimed at giving provisional legal status to at least 11 million illegal immigrants and placing them on a path-to-citizenship. The other Democrats on the panel were Richard Durbin, Robert Menendez, and Michael Bennet. A Politico.com analysis noted that their proposal, if passed, “would transform the nation’s political landscape” by “pumping as many as 11 million new Hispanic voters into the electorate a decade from now in ways that ... would produce an electoral bonanza for Democrats and cripple Republican prospects in many states they now win easily.”
When Republicans in Congress failed to support the Gang of Eight's proposal in sufficient numbers to pass it, Schumer blamed that failure on the racism of “Tea Party elites” who, he said, opposed amnesty because they did not want want America to become “less white.” “Yes, things have changed,” Schumer elaborated. “White Anglo-Saxon men are not exclusively running the country anymore.... In a pre-Tea Party world, the Senate immigration bill would have been welcomed by House Republicans,. However, the Tea Party rank-and-file know it's a different America. It looks different; it prays different; it works different. This is unsettling and angering to some.”
In February 2014, Schumer said that Congress should make amnesty available to all immigrants who had come to the U.S. illegally as recently as December 31, 2013. When some Republican lawmakers expressed reluctance to pass an immigration bill because they simply did not trust that President Obama would enforce it, Schumer said: “There’s a simple solution. Let’s enact the law this year, but simply not let it actually start until 2017, after President Obama’s term is over.”
In July 2014, the Washington Examiner reported that during the three-year period ending in March of that year, Schumer had spent almost a million taxpayer dollars to have a private plane fly him from Washington, DC to his Brooklyn, New York home on 119 separate occasions. Only two other senators spent more than Schumer on trips to their homes during that period.
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