In Louisville, Schumer Talks Bipartisanship, ‘Brooklyn Bourbon’

Previews the Senate’s immigration debate this week

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer presents U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with a bottle of bourbon at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center. Schumer spoke at the event as part of the center’s Distinguished Speaker Series. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer used a visit to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s hometown Monday to set up this week’s freewheeling immigration debate back at the Capitol.

The Democrat from New York said the two-year budget agreement that the leaders hammered out last week — and got through the Senate in the wee hours of Friday morning — underscored the ability of the chamber to function under the leadership of the current duo.

But even as Schumer praised McConnell while appearing with the Kentucky Republican at an event hosted by his namesake center at the University of Louisville, he was well aware of what lies between now and the traditional Presidents Day recess.

“The Senate is poised to take up one of the very most contentious of issues: immigration. Leader McConnell, to his credit, has promised an open process that’s fair to both sides. Democrats and Republicans are laboring to find a bill to protect the Dreamers and provide border security, and garner 60 votes,” Schumer said. “We know that this week will be a test of whether the Senate can steer the ship of state through the stormiest of waters.”

Watch: Schumer Talks Immigration Debate ‘Gravity,’ Senate’s ‘Special Obligation’

Addressing an audience on campus, including students participating in the McConnell Scholars Program, Schumer again recalled George Washington’s great metaphor for the Senate as the “cooling saucer” out of which one should sip one’s tea.

“If there was ever a time where our politics needed a cooling saucer, it is now,” he said.

Speaking hours before President Donald Trump’s administration released its budget request for fiscal 2019, Schumer said the Hill was running hot because of the current occupant of White House, as well as the seemingly perpetual divisions in the House of Representatives.

“The House is fractious. The president is the president. It is the Senate, the Senate that has the potential to act as a beacon of stable leadership and progress in a political culture plagued by gridlock and division and rancor,” Schumer said.

On the topic of the budget, Schumer joined the chorus of leaders past and present expressing hope for some sort of return to normalcy in moving the dozen regular spending bills that have faced persistent blockades. Democrats have generally blocked appropriations measures over the lack of an agreement on topline spending.

“Now we have this two-year budget agreement, which hopefully will lead the way — Mitch is an appropriator. They never let me on the Appropriations Committee,” Schumer said. “We can do appropriation bills throughout this year and the next, where genuine bipartisanship happens every, everyday.”

Aside from talk of policy, Schumer’s visit to the Bluegrass State featured humor and some gentle jabs.

The minority leader presented his host and Republican counterpart with a bottle of what he called bourbon from his home neighborhood in Brooklyn, saying it came from water filtered through limestone like that used in building landmarks throughout New York City.

“There’s no such thing as Brooklyn Bourbon,” quipped McConnell upon receiving Schumer’s gift.

Watch: If There’s a Deal, Then What’s Up With Trump’s Budget Request?

Schumer, for his part, got in a dig about the state of the University of Louisville men’s basketball program, saying that while he normally would ask McConnell on Mondays how the team was performing, “I don’t ask him this year as much.”

Longtime coach Rick Pitino was fired in October as a bribery and corruption scandal enveloped the basketball program.

But Schumer, ever the local New York politician, did have some praise for the current Cardinals basketball team. 

Small forward Jordan Nwora? He’s from Buffalo.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.