Charles E. Schumer's decision to stay in the Senate rather than run for governor of New York in 2006 could spell problems for President Bush's conservative judicial nominees.
The New York Democrat, who in the past led filibusters against presidential court appointments he said were "out of the mainstream," will remain on the Judiciary Committee as well as take two key Senate posts.
Schumer's announcement on Monday also lifted Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer into the Democrats' top slot to seek the governorship.
In an interview, Schumer said he will "certainly" mount filibuster attempts against controversial Bush nominees in the future, and mentioned Janice Brown, whose appointment was blocked by filibuster, as an example of a nominee who doesn't belong on the federal appeals bench.
Brown, whom Bush nominated to the Federal Appeals Court here, claimed zoning laws were unconstitutional as were laws barring child labor and other worker protection codes, Schumer said. Brown is California state supreme court judge.
It is possible Bush may be called on to fill as many as four vacancies on the Supreme Court. Schumer said he will be as willing as before to lead filibusters -- unlimited debates to block confirmation -- of "people who want to turn the clock back to the 1930s or the 1890s, so-called 'strict constructionists.' "
In dealing with the White House, Schumer said, "my first action will be to urge and plead and pray that the president will nominate someone in the mainstream."
Sixty votes are needed to stop debate in the Senate, and the Republicans still have only 55 members. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he may try to amend the Senate's rules so a majority of 51 can end debate on a judicial confirmation.
Schumer on Monday said he will not run for governor or any other office in 2006.
Schumer said the Senate's Democratic leadership has named him its campaign chairman for 2006 and has added the powerful Senate Finance Committee to his already hefty portfolio of assignments.
The senator assured the Democrats' new leader, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, that he would stay on the job through the next Senate election in two years.
Schumer said Spitzer called him with congratulations on his new Senate jobs. Otherwise, Spitzer was tight-lipped about his political future.
"All New Yorkers should be proud of (Schumer)," Spitzer said in a statement released through his spokesman, Darren Dopp.
Republican Gov. George E. Pataki has not said he will seek a fourth term. Although many political observers thought a possible Democratic primary confrontation between Schumer and Spitzer over the right to run for governor loomed in 2006, Schumer insisted Monday he wanted to stay in the Senate.
"I kept telling people that the only thing on my radar screen was being a good senator," said Schumer, 53. "Now everyone believes me."
Some of the speculation was fueled by Schumer's relentless statewide campaigning well after his re-election was assured and the huge balance he maintained in his campaign treasury. As of mid-October, Schumer had spent $11.3 million on the Senate campaign and still had $14 million left over.
Dopp said Spitzer has $7 million in his state political account -- which is up $1.7 million from July. Dopp declined to comment on reports Spitzer would announce plans to run for governor in a few weeks.
As chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, Schumer would not only help elect senators but would be instrumental in crafting the Democrats' national message.
"One of the reasons we had a bad time this year (in the Senate elections) is because we didn't have a message," Schumer said. "The average citizen didn't know what we wanted to do for them."
State Democratic Party Chairman Herman Farrell declined to comment on Schumer's decision not to run for governor in 2006 and the impact it will have on the party's chances now that Spitzer has become the apparent front-runner for the nomination.
Former federal Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo, a loser in the 2002 gubernatorial primary, and Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi are thought to have some interest in the 2006 race for governor. The Democratic minority leader of the State Senate, David Paterson of Manhattan, said Schumer's commitment not to seek another office at least through 2006 is "maybe not what his deepest personal interests would be."
"I think that Sen. Schumer . . . took the bullet for the rest of us," Paterson said. "We're all going to have to make some sacrifices nationally and right here in the state to change the face of government."
Tom Precious of The News Albany Bureau and the Associated Press contributed to this report.