WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Smoothing the way for a succession of party power in the U.S. Senate, its No. 4 Democrat, Patty Murray, has endorsed New York Senator Chuck Schumer to be the chamber's next Democratic leader after the 2016 elections, replacing Harry Reid, a Murray aide said on Monday.
The endorsement means Washington state's Murray, 64, is joining what Schumer calls a majority of Senate Democrats backing him. Reid, 75, announced his retirement on Friday.
"Senator Murray spoke to Senator Schumer several times over the past few days and told him that she planned to support him for leader," the Murray aide said.
Murray, considered a progressive, is the secretary for the Senate Democratic caucus. She has led important negotiations for Democrats on the budget with Republicans.
Her decision to back Schumer follows an endorsement of him last week by No. 2 Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois.
Reid, too, has thrown his weight behind Schumer. Reid will stay in his post for another 22 months. His announcement Friday positioned Schumer, a Wall Street ally, as heir apparent, with Democrats seeking to regain control of the Senate next year.
Schumer, 64, was elected to the Senate in 1998. As head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from 2005 to 2009, he worked to increase the number of Democrats in the Senate.
Murray, a former Senate Budget Committee chairwoman, negotiated a landmark budget deal with Republican Representative Paul Ryan in the wake of a 16-day government shutdown in 2013. The deal eased "sequester" spending cuts and set the stage for two years of relative fiscal peace, a period due to end this autumn.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh)