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Senate Democrats to vote on leadership rules amid power struggle

Senate Democrats to vote on leadership rules amid power struggle
© Bonnie Cash

Senate Democrats will vote Wednesday on whether to change their rules on leadership posts and plum committee positions.

Senators have been holding behind-the-scenes negotiations, with tensions spilling over into public view, in the wake of Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinProgressive support builds for expanding lower courts Menendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill What exactly are uber-woke educators teaching our kids? MORE (D-Calif.) saying she will step down as the party's top member of the Judiciary Committee.

The decision has sparked a larger conversation within the caucus that's tapped into long-simmering frustration that an adherence to seniority and a lack of term limits on top positions has created a bottleneck.

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Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinLiberals howl after Democrats cave on witnesses Senate strikes deal, bypassing calling impeachment witnesses Senators, impeachment teams scramble to cut deal on witnesses MORE (D-Md.), who has been organizing the discussion for the caucus, confirmed to The Hill that the votes will take place on Wednesday. 

"Under our caucus rules, any member who proposes an amendment can get a vote," Cardin said. 

Democratic senators had signaled earlier Tuesday that they expected the discussion to come up during a closed-door caucus meeting as soon as Wednesday. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill Budowsky: Cruz goes to Cancun, AOC goes to Texas MORE (D-N.Y.) declined to comment on the rules change discussion during his weekly press conference. 

Democrats will have multiple decisions to make with several proposals being floated.

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The marquee decision will circle around whether Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinPartisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo Democrats ask FBI for plans to address domestic extremism following Capitol attack MORE (D-Ill.) will be allowed to serve as both the caucus whip and in the party’s top spot on the Judiciary Committee.

Durbin quickly threw his hat into the ring to succeed Feinstein as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. But that decision sparked pushback because he is already the No. 2 in the caucus and is the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee that oversees the Pentagon's budget.

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Biden administration to give Congress full classified briefing on Syria strikes by next week Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence MORE (D-Va.) has offered a proposal that would prevent Schumer as the Democratic leader from wielding a committee gavel. Meanwhile, the No. 2 spot, held by Durbin, would only be able to hold one top position on either a full committee or a subcommittee.

"I've offered this in the spirit of compromise. I'm not affected by it," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) about his proposal. 

Durbin has said he would be willing to give up the top spot in the Appropriations subcommittee in order to comply with Kaine’s proposal.

But Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseBiden nominee previews post-Trump trade agenda Tucker Carlson bashes CNN, claims it's 'more destructive' than QAnon Garland seeks to draw sharp contrast with Trump-era DOJ MORE (D-R.I.) and others have made the argument that Durbin shouldn’t be able to hold both the whip position, which they argue is a full-time job, and the caucus’s top spot on the Judiciary panel.

Whitehouse is next in line behind Durbin on the Judiciary Committee and is interested in succeeding Feinstein.

Whether either one chairs the committee, or instead becomes ranking member, depends on which party controls the Senate. That will be determined by the two runoff elections in Georgia next month. 

A spokesperson declined to comment. Durbin said on Tuesday that they were making progress in the discussion but hadn't reached a conclusion.

In addition to discussions over new restrictions on leadership positions, senators have also floated proposals about committee chairman and ranking member positions and allocating top subcommittee positions.

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharOpen-ended antitrust is an innovation killer FBI, DHS and Pentagon officials to testify on Capitol riot Five big takeaways on the Capitol security hearings MORE (Minn.), the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, has offered a proposal for new rules on top committee posts. Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Minimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster New rule shakes up Senate Armed Services subcommittees MORE (D-Conn.) has offered a proposal on the allocation of subcommittee gavels. It's unclear if Democrats would hold one vote on a slate of proposals or would vote on each proposal individually.

"It's no secret that I'm a believer that we should share the wealth a little bit more when it comes to leadership positions in the caucus," Murphy said. 

– Updated at 4:59 p.m.