Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream

Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream
© Getty Images

Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSchumer: Franken should resign Franken resignation could upend Minnesota races Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE wants to chair the Health Committee next year if Democrats take over the Senate.

There’s one problem. Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDemocrats turn on Al Franken VA slashes program that helps homeless veterans obtain housing: report The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Wash.), a strong ally of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP lawmakers cite new allegations of political bias in FBI Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father MORE, may not give up the position.

ADVERTISEMENT
Murray says she loves the Health panel. The alternative, taking over the Appropriations Committee, is not as enticing as it used to be given today's fierce battles over spending and the abolishment of earmarks.

Murray is signaling to colleagues that she’s very happy in her current role and would relish the chance to work with Clinton on major issues.

“She loves the work she is doing on the [Health] Committee to fight for policies that help women, students, families, seniors, workers and the economy — and there is a whole lot more that she’d like to get done,” said her spokesman, Eli Zupnick.

Murray told The Hill Tuesday that she has “not had a specific conversation” with Clinton’s inner circle about how they might work together next year if Democrats control both the White House and Senate, as they hope.

But Democratic lawmakers on the panel say Murray talks as though she expects to return as its Democratic leader in the next Congress.

Sanders has made no secret of his desire to lead Democrats on the panel.

“It … deals with the issues that I’ve been involved in my whole life, that I feel very strongly about,” Sanders said in an interview with C-SPAN last week.

“Health, the need to provide healthcare to all people, education, labor, pensions. All of those issues are enormously important for Americans,” he said. 

Sanders told The Hill Wednesday that he’s next in line in seniority on the panel after Murray.

“I am in line to” become chairman or ranking member,” he said, but then conceded that he didn’t know what Murray would do.

“You have to ask her,” he said.

It's likely that Clinton would prefer Murray to helm the health committee, where the meat of her agenda will be handled.

The panel has jurisdiction over the domestic and social-welfare issues Clinton and Sanders battled over during the Democratic primary.

If Sanders took over as the chairman or top-ranking minority member of the Health Committee, he would have a powerful say over how to move these key pieces of Clinton’s agenda. But some Senate Democrats question whether Clinton would want to avoid the potential headache of constantly negotiating with her primary rival, who still hasn’t endorsed her, next year.

For example, Sanders wants to replace ObamaCare with a single-payer government-funded healthcare system, something Clinton has criticized as counterproductive. She would prefer to build off the successes of the landmark 2010 healthcare reform law.

Sanders says he wants to chair the committee because of the role it will play in the biggest legislative debates of the next Congress.

Legislation to reform ObamaCare, create “debt-free” colleges, raise the minimum wage, promote equal pay among men and women and establish up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave would all come before the panel.

While the scenario of Sanders and Clinton battling in the Senate would depend on a number of factors, some Senate Democratic sources think that Clinton’s allies in the Senate would seek to prevent Sanders from getting the Health post.

“It would become a less functional committee,” predicted one Democratic lawmaker on the Health panel about the prospect of Sanders taking over as the chairman or ranking member.

Murray is one of Clinton’s staunchest backers in the Senate. She formally endorsed Clinton on Facebook in April of 2015, nearly ten months before the Iowa Caucuses.

In March, she declined to switch her status as a pro-Clinton superdelegate after Sanders won the Washington caucus with 73 percent of the vote.

“She has worked with Hillary for years and believes she will be an amazing voice for Washington state workers and families as she breaks this highest and hardest glass ceiling in our country,” Murray’s spokesman said at the time.

Democrats choose their chairmen or ranking members based on seniority, though the roster of committee leaders also must be ratified by a caucus vote.

The retirement of Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiClinton: White House slow-walking Russia sanctions Top Lobbyists 2017: Hired Guns Gore wishes Mikulski a happy birthday at 'Inconvenient Sequel' premiere MORE (Md.), the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, at the end of this year could set off a domino chain of leadership changes at other committees.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign America isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash Your tax dollars fund Afghan child rape MORE (D-Vt.), the most senior member of the Senate Democratic caucus and the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, has the first choice of whether to take over the top slot at Appropriations.  

When the previous Democratic chairman of Appropriations, the late Sen. Dan Inouye (Hawaii), died in December of 2012, Leahy passed up a chance to chair the committee.

Former Sen. Tom HarkinTom HarkinDemocrats are all talk when it comes to DC statehood The Hill's 12:30 Report Distance education: Tumultuous today and yesterday MORE (D-Iowa), then the chairman of the HELP Committee, also declined to take over the spending panel.  

Leahy is widely expected to choose to remain at the Judiciary next year, especially if Clinton is president. He would then serve in the historic role of presiding over at least one and as many as three Supreme Court confirmations.

One Senate Democratic aide said Wednesday he believes Leahy will look at it seriously.

If Leahy forgoes Appropriations, then Murray, who is the current ranking member on the HELP Committee, would have a chance to take over the chairmanship or top-ranking minority member’s position on the spending panel.

Last year, many believed that she would seek to challenge Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats turn on Al Franken Minnesota's largest newspaper calls on Franken to resign Democratic senator predicts Franken will resign Thursday MORE (D-Ill.) for the Democratic Whip position in the next Senate given the leadership shuffle among Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidBill O'Reilly: Politics helped kill Kate Steinle, Zarate just pulled the trigger Tax reform is nightmare Déjà vu for Puerto Rico Ex-Obama and Reid staffers: McConnell would pretend to be busy to avoid meeting with Obama MORE (D-Nev.) is retiring, and Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerAmerica isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash Schumer celebrates New York Giants firing head coach: ‘About time’ GOP should reject the left's pessimism and the deficit trigger MORE (D-N.Y.) is the heir apparent to succeed him.

Democratic caucus rules would not prohibit Murray from serving as whip and a committee chairman.

If Murray passes on serving as chairman or ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Blumenthal: ‘Credible case' of obstruction of justice can be made against Trump MORE (D-Calif.), who’s next in line, isn’t sure she’d leave her leadership post on the Intelligence Committee to take the job.

“I don’t know,” she said, noting the Appropriations Committee is not the power it once was. “Nothing gets done.”

Updated at 4:57 p.m.