Senate Democrats could soon be in the middle of a messy battle for the No. 2 spot in leadership.
An alleged late-night deal between Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and New York’s Chuck Schumer to support each other in their respective leadership races apparently never happened, according to a person close to Schumer.
According to an aide for Sen. Durbin, he and Sen. Schumer spoke early Friday morning near the end of the 15-hour budget amendment vote-a-rama about the impending announcement that Sen Harry Reid, D-NV, would be retiring. According to the Durbin aide, Durbin stated he would support Schumer for Democratic Leader, and Schumer in return said he would support Durbin to remain in his position as Minority Whip.
But according to Schumer’s team, that never happened.
"That did not happen, and they know it," Schumer spokesman Matt House told NBC News, noting that Durbin had approached his boss offering him his support for Democratic Leader, but that Schumer never reciprocated.
Yet, Durbin spokesman Ben Marter says it did, telling NBC News: "The two senators agreed to support one another for leader and whip, then shook hands. That's what a deal is."
The he-said-she-said leaves the door open for another candidate for Whip to possibly emerge, with Sen Patty Murray, D-WA, at the top of the list. Murray has served as the No. 4 Senate Democrat, and aides point out there may be a sentiment in the caucus to elevate a woman above the No. 3 spot, which Schumer would be leaving vacant when Reid retires.
But Murray is keeping mum on her intentions, and it does not appear she wants to start what would be a protracted election for Whip, a contest which would not happen until after the 2016 elections.
"Senator Murray is focused on her current job and isn't going to be speculating about other positions under Senator Schumer in leadership elections two years from now,” Murray’s spokesman, Eli Zupnick said in a statement.
After Reid announced Friday that he not be seeking reelection, Democrats quickly coalesced around Schumer as the future Democratic Leader, with Reid, Durbin and Murray all publicly announcing their support for him. Both Durbin and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office announced they would not be running for leader, even as progressive groups fired off statements touting Warren as a contender for the post.
Schumer spent time on Friday calling senators and asking them for their support in his race for Democratic Leader, and according to a person close to Schumer, he has the support of a majority of the caucus. Durbin also made calls on Friday, telling colleagues he would be running again for Whip, a post he has held since 2005.
Durbin and Schumer have a close personal history, as they were roommates for 22 years at the now-defunct "Alpha House," which they shared with now-retired Rep George Miller, D-CA, until Miller sold the property last year.
But that history does not appear to have translated to a relationship that would avoid this kind of potential intra-party drama. When asked how Durbin’s relationship was with Murray, an aide for Durbin responded quickly, "Durbin and Murray are close personal friends," noting that Durbin has already helped Murray in her reelection campaign.
When asked how Durbin’s relationship with Schumer was, the same aide paused for an extended period of time to ponder, then said: "They’re friends."