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Reid’s Likely Successors Are Big Players on Foreign Policy

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has publicly backed Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to succeed him as Senate minority leader when he retires at the end of 2016, possibly giving the main pro-Israel lobby a powerful new ally in the upper chamber.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 11:  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (2ndL), speaks to the media while flanked by Sen. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (R-NY) (L), Sen. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) (2ndR) and Sen. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (R), during a news conference on Capitol Hill, September 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. Leader Reid talked about President Obamas address to the nation last night regarding his plan against the terrorist group ISIS.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 11: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (2ndL), speaks to the media while flanked by Sen. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (R-NY) (L), Sen. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) (2ndR) and Sen. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (R), during a news conference on Capitol Hill, September 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. Leader Reid talked about President Obamas address to the nation last night regarding his plan against the terrorist group ISIS. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has publicly backed Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to succeed him as Senate minority leader when he retires at the end of 2016, possibly giving the main pro-Israel lobby a powerful new ally in the upper chamber.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Reid predicted that Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) would step aside to clear the way for Schumer’s ascension. So far Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat, hasn’t said whether he’ll pursue the party’s top leadership post in the Senate. Either way, both lawmakers would provide a more forceful voice on foreign policy than Reid, who has mostly focused on domestic issues.

“If Durbin is leader, I think you might see a bit more engagement — he cares a lot about foreign policy because of the ethnic constituencies in Chicago,” a Senate aide told Foreign Policy. “Schumer cares a lot about [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee], but little else.”

Schumer has received more than $258,000 from pro-Israel supporters in the last seven years, making him the 11th-biggest recipient of pro-Israel donations in the Senate, according to MapLight, a nonpartisan research group. Just this week, he signed on as a co-sponsor of legislation that would mandate congressional review of a nuclear deal with Iran, a bill strongly backed by Jerusalem but opposed by the White House.

Durbin is also vocal on foreign policy. He’s called on President Barack Obama to arm Ukraine’s military — a move the White House has resisted but that Chicago’s sizable Ukrainian immigrant community largely supports. He’s also defended the Obama administration’s effort to find a diplomatic solution to restraining Iran’s nuclear program. And Durbin isn’t shy of supporting international issues that don’t always get good buzz — like reforming the Commission on International Religious Freedom or boosting foreign aid for clean water.

“Durbin gets into the weeds and has taken some strong positions on important issues that aren’t always good political sells,” a congressional aide said.

Other, dark-horse contenders who are considered progressive outsiders include Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Patty Murray of Washington. Neither is particularly known for their foreign-policy credentials.

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John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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