PROFILE : Rep. Schumer Pushes, Pulls to Mold Crime Bill : Brooklyn lawmaker gave a little to the left and a little to the right in forming the measure. To him, the main point is that it likely will pass.
Although heavy partisan warfare lies ahead, it appears likely Congress will give President Clinton a crime bill that will redeem his campaign promises to put 100,000 more police officers on the streets and lock up repeat violent offenders for life.
Much of the credit would belong to a pushy pragmatist from Brooklyn who has established his credentials as a master in crafting consensus legislation.
He is Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who holds a crucial post on the House Judiciary Committee. Schumer, 43, combines a quick mind with a capacity for compromise that has served him well during his seven terms.
But during consideration of the crime bill, he faced opposition from the left and the right for the middle-road approach he advocated.
“The public is anguished about crime,” Schumer said in an interview. “They are telling legislators: ‘Do something!’ ”
The answer to Schumer seemed obvious--a combination of punitive measures to give hard-core violent criminals life terms and effective measures to deal with first-time offenders and drug addicts without putting them behind bars for lengthy terms.
House Democratic leaders wanted a crime bill, too, but one more moderate than the Senate bill passed in November with its far-reaching federalization of all crimes committed with a gun.
One obstacle was Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.), chairman of the full Judiciary Committee, who in the past has expressed skepticism about the need for additional crime legislation.
As a result, much of the burden fell on Schumer, chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on crime and criminal justice, where he formed coalitions to get the results he wanted.
Many liberal Democrats grumbled about provisions of the bill, now pending in the House, that expand the federal death penalty to dozens of crimes. Many conservative Republicans complained that its sentencing guidelines are too lenient and that it shortchanges funds to build prisons.
Schumer, however, had a different goal. As he put it: “We have crafted a bill that can pass on the (House) floor.”
With the President’s backing, the House seems prepared this week to approve almost all the major provisions of a bill that could allow the Democrats to nullify traditional GOP attempts to paint them as soft on crime.
Hoping to lay the groundwork for adoption of GOP amendments to toughen major parts of the bill, Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) has assailed the measure as a combination of “tough talk, weak substance and misdirected spending.”
Schumer has made his mark on bills affecting agriculture, banking and foreign affairs.
It was Schumer who led the uphill fight in the House for the Brady law, which restricts handgun purchases, and he has advocated even more far-reaching regulation of firearms.
“Crime has formed an angry center, which tells ideologues on left and right: Do more with punishment and prevention,” Schumer said.
Unlike its hands-off posture during Senate consideration of the crime bill, the Clinton Administration played a greater role as the legislation took shape in the House. Prodded by Schumer, the President assigned Ron Klain, a top Justice Department official, to be the point man for the crime bill as it moved through the Judiciary Committee.
The House measure includes the popular “three strikes and you’re out” provision, endorsed by Clinton and previously passed by the Senate, that would impose mandatory life terms in federal prison on those convicted of three violent crimes, or two violent crimes and one serious drug offense.
Republicans favor that provision. On the other hand, they are grumbling about elements that would channel billions of dollars to crime-prone communities for unspecified prevention agendas, including midnight basketball programs and the opening of schools during the evenings to provide activities for teen-agers.
For liberal Democrats, however, these provisions worked out with Schumer’s aid are a sweetener that may allow many of them to swallow some bitter medicine, such as the extension of the death penalty to 64 additional crimes--including drive-by shootings and carjackings--that now come under state and local jurisdiction.
“Those on the left are wringing their hands, but they’re going to wind up voting for the bill,” Schumer predicted. “Those on the right are wringing their hands, but I suspect a lot of Republicans will vote for it too.”