Double-bullet theory: Schumer-Durbin jockeying is keeping Harry Reid in power

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Schumer on 'Face the Nation'. ()
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Dick Durbin was on "Meet the Press" this weekend to deliver the message for Washington Democrats in defense of the president and the economy. Last weekend, when the issue was the president's health care plan and the Supreme Court, it was Chuck Schumer speaking on behalf of the party.

It's easy to forget, what with two such high-profile lieutenants, that Harry Reid is still majority leader.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard a theory on Reid's longevity from former senator Arlen Specter, who knows all three current senators well and briefly joined their party before losing a primary in 2010. Specter thinks, basically, that Reid is still in place precisely because both Schumer and Durbin want his position so badly.

"Let me give you a theory: I think Reid has survived because of the strength of Schumer and Durbin as his successors," Specter said. "If only one of them were in the caucus, I think Schumer would have replaced—or Durbin would have replaced—Reid. But neither could make a move to replace him without giving the other the advantage."

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Specter holds a particularly dim view of Reid, who he says went back on a promise to transfer the senator's seniority when he switched to the Democratic caucus in 2009 after nearly three decades as a Republican. As the only recent senator to have spent time in both conferences, I asked Specter to contrast the leadership of the two parties in the Senate.

"Both abysmal," he said. "They both lead their parties to cotton to the extremists, to cotton to the far right or the far left. Whenever I spoke in either caucus, it was customarily in dissent."

I asked Specter if the Democrats might be more centrist, by his definition, if Schumer were in charge.

"Well, let me say I think they'd be more effective," he said. "As you can see from my book, I don't have much regard for Reid. I have a very high regard for Schumer."

Specter had nice things to say about Durbin too, and said he couldn't tell which of them had a leg up in the race to eventually replace Reid, who survived a scare in 2010.

"I think it's pretty nip and tuck," Specter said. "I think the leadership is sort of frozen because of the factors I've just described."

A spokesman to Schumer declined to comment.