Mikulski will take gavel of powerful Senate Appropriations Committee

Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiMikulski on Warren flap: Different rules apply to women It's not just Trump's Cabinet but Congress lacks diversity The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Md.) is set to become the chairwoman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. 

She takes the position in the wake of the sudden death of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) this week, and after Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyDem senator asks for 'top to bottom' review of Syria policy A guide to the committees: Senate Verizon angling to lower price of Yahoo purchase: report MORE (D-Vt.) and Tom HarkinTom HarkinGrassley challenger no stranger to defying odds Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream Do candidates care about our health or just how much it costs? MORE (D-Iowa) declined the role.

In a statement, Mikulski highlighted the fact that she will be the first woman to chair the spending panel.

"It’s an honor and a privilege to be expected to follow the great leadership of Senator Inouye, one of my most treasured mentors, and become the Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee,” Mikulski said. “It is especially gratifying to be the first woman to lead this powerful committee. I am grateful for this opportunity to fight for the day to day needs of the American people and the long range needs of the nation.”

Leahy will remain as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Harkin will keep his spot as the head of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. Leahy congratulated Mikulski over Twitter. 

Mikulski is the longest-serving woman in the Senate, but held no position nearly as powerful as the one she now assumes. Her first job will be to try to shepherd a $60.4 billion Hurricane Sandy emergency-spending bill through Congress, and to see if an omnibus spending bill replacing the current 2013 stopgap bill can be passed next week. 

Leahy had been next in line to take the Appropriations post after Inouye's death. By choosing to stay at Judiciary, he will be responsible for dealing with possible gun control in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre last week that claimed the lives of 20 first-grade children. Judiciary also will likely have a key role in approving Supreme Court nominees in the next Congress.

“Chairing the Judiciary Committee and maintaining my seniority on the Appropriations Committee will allow me to protect both the Constitution and Vermont," Leahy said in a statement issued by his office.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinA guide to the committees: Senate Dem: Trump's China trademark looks like a quid pro quo Senate advances Trump's Commerce pick MORE (D-Calif.) will remain as the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democratic aides said. A leading gun-control advocate, she had been next in line to take the Judiciary helm.

The Leahy and Harkin decisions may at least partly reflect the declining appeal of Appropriations in a time where austerity rather than stimulus spending dominates the conversation and earmarks are no longer the currency of influence in Congress.

Harkin said that he passed up the once-coveted post because his "passion lies" in the HELP committee.

“I believe the best place to advance this agenda is through my HELP Chairmanship working in conjunction with my Chairmanship of the Appropriations subcommittee that funds health, education, and labor. It was my good friend Senator Inouye who said that these issues are the issues that define America. I couldn’t agree more. I am proud of these assignments and I intend to see my work through," he said. 

Harkin said he plans to push massive education and pension reform proposals in the new Congress, including his USA Retirement proposal unveiled in this Congress. He also said he will continue to push for full implementation of the Obama health reform prevention title, which conservatives have said includes a "slush fund."

— This article was originally published at 4:13 p.m. and last updated at 6:05 p.m.