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The Briefing: McConnell and Schumer talk business and bourbon

WASHINGTON – Members of Congress call each other "my good friend" as a matter of routine, even if deep down they're really thinking: "I detest every drop of that dope's DNA."

Of course, in the transactional world of politics, "my good friend" quite often means "I can work with that guy."

And that seems to be the state of the relationship between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York.

Proof came in two very different venues in the past two weeks.

First, and most importantly, the top Senate Republican and the top Senate Democrat struck a budget deal that should calm the political waters in Washington at least a bit for the next two years.

But second, and most tellingly, McConnell invited Schumer to his hometown Monday to speak at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville.

While the event was obviously not a meeting of bosom buddies, it showed that McConnell and Schumer are, at this point, functioning far better as leadership partners than McConnell and Schumer's predecessor, former Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, ever fared.

"We really do get along, despite what you read in the press," Schumer noted.

"We're kind of like the offensive and defensive coordinators" of the U.S. Senate, McConnell explained.

Both of them cited last week's budget deal as proof that they can work together.

That's important, simply because the Senate cannot function without compromise. Senate rules give Schumer's Democratic minority the right to stop any legislation that can't get 60 votes – and in these deeply divided times, that means the Dems can stop just about any bill that matters.

Recognizing that reality, the two leaders noted that they speak every day – which, at the very least, is an improvement over the relationship between McConnell and Reid, who, in their darkest days, communicated only through aides and plainly couldn't stand the sight of each other.

Things might be better now just because Schumer has long been far more likely to extend a friendly hand across the aisle than his predecessor was. Long before ascending to his party's top spot in the Senate, Schumer forged strong bonds with Republicans such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

What's more, Schumer can disagree without becoming disagreeable.

"It's no secret I didn't agree with the way healthcare and tax legislation were considered in the Senate," Schumer said in Louisville.

Similarly, McConnell invited Schumer to Kentucky even though the New Yorker voted against the Kentuckian's wife, Elaine Chao, when President Trump nominated her to serve as transportation secretary.

So instead of holding grudges, the Senate's leaders now seem to take their disagreements in good spirits.


For proof – about 40 proof, most likely – note the gift that Schumer brought McConnell: a bottle of Brooklyn's "Widow Jane" bourbon.

Not surprisingly, the Kentuckian scoffed at it.

"There's no such thing as Brooklyn bourbon," he said.

Schumer then laughed – and scoffed at the clock McConnell gave him.

“Story of my life,” he said. “Mitch gets the bourbon. I get the clock.”

Happening today

President Trump meets with Ohio's two U.S. senators – Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rob Portman – to discuss trade and the steel industry, then holds a reception for Black History Month ... The Senate continues its work on trying to develop bipartisan immigration legislation ... The Senate Budget Committee holds a hearing on President Trump's Fiscal 2019 budget proposal ... And the Department of Defense spells out more details of the spending increases it would get under Trump's spending plan.

Good reads

Peter Baker of the New York Times gives us a vivid look inside the Trump White House amid all its recent comings and goings ... The Hill looks at 36 – yes, 36 – Democrats who might challenge President Trump in 2020, including New York's Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ... The Washington Post's Philip Bump previews the fake news of the future – and how technology will be able to be used to manipulate what you see and believe ... Meanwhile, Wired magazine dives deep into Facebook's fake news problem ... And Esquire questions whether Silicon Valley's giants have gotten too big for the country's good.



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