As the Senate skirted a potential economic calamity for the United States, its top two political leaders went at each other verbally: Sen. Chuck Schumer lashing out at Republicans, and Sen. Mitch McConnell firing back.
Schumer made his remarks on the Senate floor, just as the chamber sealed a deal to raise the nation’s debt limit.
“Republicans played a dangerous and risky partisan game. And I am glad that their brinkmanship did not work,” he said.
McConnell fired back in a letter late last week, accusing Schumer of “childish behavior” and “angry incompetence.” He said Schumer "poisoned the well" of the Senate.
Even some of Schumer’s Democratic allies questioned his comments — or at least when he made them. “I agree with the reasons why Sen. Schumer was so frustrated … the timing may not have been the best,” Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said on Fox News Sunday.
For weeks, Schumer and McConnell had been in a staring contest over the debt limit, until McConnell blinked at the last moment, allowing a temporary fix.
On Monday, Schumer sidestepped a question about the letter and his relationship with McConnell during an event in upstate New York. “The good news is we got the debt ceiling extended. Now we have a whole lot of work to do,” he said.
Sen. Harry Reid, the last Democratic Senate leader, reportedly had an especially icy relationship with McConnell.
Democratic political analyst Capri Cafaro said the exchange between Schumer and McConnell reflects the political climate.
“Whether you look at Schumer's floor speech or McConnell's letter, they're sending signals to their respective bases,” said Cafaro, who serves as an executive in residence at American University.
McConnell, for example, faced fierce criticism from the right for allowing the short-term deal to raise the borrowing limit. Senators from his own party and former President Donald Trump questioned his decision.
As for McConnell's accusation that Schumer “poisoned the well," Gregory Wawro, who chairs the political science department at Columbia University, suggested context is needed, saying "you're already talking about waters that are teeming with all sorts of nasty stuff as a result of what Mitch McConnell did when he was Majority Leader.”
Wawro pointed, for instance, to McConnell’s decision to hold up the nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court during the Obama administration.
The harsh exchange between Schumer and McConnell could complicate things the next time the government is on the precipice. That could occur in December, when Congress faces another debt ceiling deadline.
McConnell warned in his letter that Republicans won’t help this time.