Dorgan’s departure opens tempting springboard to policy leadership

Dorgan’s departure opens tempting springboard to policy leadership

Sen. Byron Dorgan’s (D-N.D.) retirement has set off speculation over who will replace him as head of the Democratic Policy Committee, a tempting leadership springboard.

Democratic aides say several lawmakers serving in leadership positions, or promising up-and-comers such as Sens. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDems in Germany: Trump can't stop clean energy revolution Senate Dems demand answers on Social Security info given to election integrity commission Strange bedfellows on criminal justice reform could offer Trump a legislative win MORE (R.I.) or Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownScott Garrett poses real threat to EXIM Bank, small businesses Class warfare fight erupts over tax bills Senators Hatch, Brown have heated exchange on GOP tax plan MORE (Ohio), could vie for the post.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidVirginia was a wave election, but without real change, the tide will turn again Top Lobbyists 2017: Grass roots Boehner confronted Reid after criticism from Senate floor MORE (D-Nev.) will appoint Dorgan’s successor. As a result, lawmakers will not campaign among colleagues for the gavel but instead make quiet entreaties to their leader.

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate ethics panel resumes Menendez probe after judge declares mistrial Judge declares mistrial in Menendez bribery case Menendez jury deadlocked, ordered to keep trying MORE (D-N.J.) is considered a likely candidate. During his career in the House, Menendez headed the Democratic Caucus. Reid appointed Menendez to the Finance Committee in January 2009, a move colleagues interpreted as a reward for his agreement to lead the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) this cycle.

One Democratic aide said the likelihood of Menendez landing the job depends on whether Reid promised him special consideration, in addition to the Finance appointment, in return for running the DSCC. The aide said Menendez’s claim would also hinge on his track record as campaign chief, a job that got a little harder with the retirements of Dorgan and Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.), as well as tough challenges in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Nevada.

Senate Democratic sources say the prestige of the Democratic Policy Committee chairmanship has slipped some in recent years. When then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.) appointed Dorgan as chairman in 1999, many Senate insiders viewed it as the de facto No. 3 position in the leadership, behind the Democratic leader and whip.

A senior Democratic aide said the post is now viewed as No. 5 in the Democratic leadership. Reid, Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinQuestions loom over Franken ethics probe GOP defends Trump judicial nominee with no trial experience Democrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  MORE (Ill.), Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJuan Williams: The politics of impeachment Texas Republicans slam White House over disaster relief request Dem rep: Trump disaster aid request is 'how you let America down again' MORE (N.Y.) and Democratic Conference Secretary Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayGOP senator: ObamaCare fix could be in funding bill Collins: Pass bipartisan ObamaCare bills before mandate repeal Murkowski: ObamaCare fix not a precondition for tax vote MORE (Wash.) occupy the top four slots. Reid, Durbin and Murray hold elected leadership posts while Schumer was appointed to his at the start last year, a reward for his service as DSCC chairman.

Even though Murray outranks Dorgan on the leadership ladder, she may be interested in his post because it comes with a staff of nearly 20 aides, a powerful perk in a chamber where manpower is limited. As Democratic Conference secretary, Murray has three additional staffers.

Other members of the Democratic leadership could vie for Dorgan’s job, say aides. They include Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowRep. Upton won't seek Michigan Senate seat, focuses on reelection The feds need to return to the original intent of foreign investment review GOP campaign committees call on Democrats to return Franken donations MORE (Mich.), chairwoman of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, and the three deputy whips who meet weekly with Reid: Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperDemocrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  Pruitt to testify on EPA agenda at House, Senate hearings Senate confirms top air regulator at EPA MORE (Del.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonReport: FCC chair to push for complete repeal of net neutrality Collins: Pass bipartisan ObamaCare bills before mandate repeal Democrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  MORE (Fla.) and Russ Feingold (Wis.).

A Democrat close to Stabenow, however, said her talents are well suited to the Steering Committee, which involves significant outreach to constituent groups. Colleagues respect Stabenow for her “people skills” and positive enthusiasm.

Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerBarbara Boxer recounts harassment on Capitol Hill: ‘The entire audience started laughing’ 100 years of the Blue Slip courtesy Four more lawmakers say they’ve been sexually harassed by colleagues in Congress MORE (Calif.), the chief deputy whip, and Sens. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) also attend weekly leadership meetings with Reid but are not considered candidates because they each chair important policy committees.

Democratic aides say Whitehouse and Brown could fit well atop the policy committee. Both lawmakers are viewed as articulate advocates with enough partisan oomph to drive an agenda. Whitehouse and Brown took prominent roles during the healthcare debate.

Some aides think Sen. Barbara Mikulksi (Md.), who held the post of conference secretary from 1995 to 2005, may have interest. But a senior Democratic aide expressed doubt that Mikulski, who chairs the Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee and typically carries a heavy policy load, would volunteer for the job.

Democratic aides say it is difficult to gauge lawmakers’ ambitions for the policy committee because few expected Dorgan’s sudden retirement. Dorgan announced on Tuesday he would leave the Senate in 2011 after giving his colleagues and staff little advance notice.

For years, Senate Democratic leaders closely guarded control of the policy committee.  Former leaders Lyndon Johnson (Texas), Mike Mansfield (Mont.), Robert Byrd (W.Va.), George Mitchell (Maine) and Daschle chaired the committee. So did Reid.

Dachle was the first chairman who did not serve concurrently as majority leader. Both he and Reid used it as a steppingstone to majority leader.