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 June 2008, Schumer wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal wherein he stated that the most effective way of preventing Iran from continuing to develop a nuclear weapons program, would be for the U.S. to work through the United Nations to impose "stronger economic sanctions" on the regime in Tehran. However, he noted, Russia had previously blocked the implementation of such sanctions for three reasons: "First, Moscow has a longstanding, close relationship with Tehran and regards itself as Iran's protector. Second, the Russian economy benefits from its relationship with Iran by several billion dollars a year. Third and most important is leverage. Putin is an old-fashioned nationalist who seeks to regain the power and greatness that the country had before the fall of the Soviet Union."
By Schumer's calculus, "To bring Moscow on board we must make it an offer it cannot refuse." A key component of such an offer, he said, would be for the U.S. to abandon the Bush administration's plan -- a plan that greatly displeased Russia -- to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Wrote Schumer:
"Two years ago, under NATO auspices, Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania agreed to build an anti-missile defense site to thwart the threat of a nuclear missile attack by Iran. The threat is hypothetical and remote, and the Bush administration's emphasis on pursuing the anti-missile system, without Russia's cooperation, still baffles many national security experts. It also drives Putin to apoplexy. The anti-missile system strengthens the relationship between Eastern Europe and NATO, with real troops and equipment on the ground. It mocks Putin's dream of eventually restoring Russian hegemony over Eastern Europe. Dismantling the anti-missile site, economic incentives and creation of a diplomatic partnership in the region -- in exchange for joining an economic boycott of Iran -- is an offer Putin would find hard to refuse. It is our best hope to avoid a nuclear Iran, because a successful economic boycott would certainly force the Iranian regime to heed Western demands more than anything attempted so far."
In 2009 the new U.S. President, Barack Obama, decided to adopt Schumer's plan. As the Guardian reported on September 17 of that year:
"Barack Obama has abandoned the controversial Pentagon plan to build a missile defence system in Europe that had long soured relations with Russia. In one of the sharpest breaks yet with the policies of the Bush administration, Obama said the new approach would offer 'stronger, swifter and smarter' defence for the U.S. and its allies. He said it would focus on the threat posed by Iran's short- and medium-range missiles, rather than its intercontinental nuclear capabilities. Obama ... phoned the leaders of Poland and the Czech Republic last night to tell them he had dropped plans to site missile interceptors and a radar station in their respective countries. Russia had furiously opposed the project, claiming it targeted Moscow's nuclear arsenal."
Schumer has long supported the enactment of the so-called Fairness Doctrine, a federal regulation (abandoned by the Reagan administration in 1987) requiring equal time for the expression of different political views on the public airwaves. “The very same people who don’t want the Fairness Doctrine want the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] to limit pornography on the air,” Schumer told Fox News in November 2008. “I am for that. I think pornography should be limited. But you can’t say, ‘government hands off in one area’ to a commercial enterprise, but you’re allowed to intervene in another. That’s not consistent.” For details on the Fairness Doctrine and its implications, click here.
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 Al Franken, Tom Udall, 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 Michael Bennet, Richard Durbin, and Robert Menendez. 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 the immediate aftermath of the November 2014 midterm elections in which Republicans had increased their majority in the House and regained control of the Senate, Schumer said: “The president has no choice but to take executive action where he can, wherever it's legally allowed, to help reform the immigration system. We cannot put up with this constant obstruction. We need to fix our broken immigration system.”
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.
When some Republicans, in the wake of the February 2016 death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, suggested that they would block the confirmation of any replacement whom Barack Obama might nominate during the remaining 11 months of his presidency, Schumer condemned their “obstructionist” position: “We’re not going to go forward to leave the Supreme Court vacant [for] 300 days in a divided time,'” said the senator, adding: “When you go right off the bat and say, 'I don't care who he nominates, I am going to oppose him,' that's not going to fly.” But nine years earlier, in July 2007, Schumer himself had stated that no George W. Bush nominee to the Supreme Court should be approved during the remaining 18 months of his presidency, “except in extraordinary circumstances.” “We should reverse the presumption of confirmation,” said Schumer at that time. “The Supreme Court is dangerously out of balance. We cannot afford to see Justice Stevens replaced by another Roberts, or Justice Ginsburg by another Alito.” During the same speech, Schumer lamented that he had not succeeded in blocking President Bush’s prior Supreme Court nominations (Roberts and Alito).
During the second week of February 2017, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested more than 680 illegal-alien criminals in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio, and the New York City area. Of the 41 people arrested in New York, 38 had previous criminal convictions. According to a New York Daily News report, those arrestees included: "a citizen of El Salvador with a criminal conviction for assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering and self-admitted MS-13 gang member; a citizen of Jamaica with a criminal conviction for first degree sexual assault of a victim under the age of 11; [and] a citizen of Mexico with a criminal convicted for first degree sexual assault of a victim under the age of 11." Complaining about a lack of transparency in the recent arrests generally, Schumer said: "Targeting law-abiding innocent immigrant families whose only wrongdoing was crossing the border to give their children a better life, instead of focusing on removing those who have been convicted of violent crimes, is a waste of limited resources and undermines law enforcement in communities across the country. ICE must come clean."
On March 2, 2017, the Daily Mail reported that a foreign athlete whom Schumer had recently helped gain admittance to the United States, had sexually abused a young girl during his stay in America. Said the report:
"A snowshoe racer from India who competed last weekend at the World Snowshoe Championships in New York is accused of sexually abusing a local girl after Senator Chuck Schumer pulled strings to allow him into the country after his visa was initially denied. Police said 24-year-old Tanveer Hussain, of Kashmir, is charged with sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child. Saranac Lake Village police Sergeant Casey Reardon told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that the 12-year-old girl and her parents reported that Hussain kissed and touched her in an 'intimate area over her clothing'.
"The U.S. embassy in New Delhi initially rejected Hussain’s visa application to come to the U.S. to compete in the World Snowshoe Championship, but Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand contacted the New Delhi embassy, which allowed the racer to reapply and he was granted a visa."
For an overview of Charles Schumer's voting record on key issues during his years in the U.S. Senate, click here.
For additional information on Schumer, click here.