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 Feinstein (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.

Sen. Ben Cardin (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 Schumer (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.

The marquee decision will circle around whether Sen. Dick Durbin (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 Kaine (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 Whitehouse (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 Klobuchar (Minn.), the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, has offered a proposal for new rules on top committee posts. Sen. Chris Murphy (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.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Ben Cardin Charles Schumer Chris Coons Chris Murphy Dianne Feinstein Dick Durbin Senate Democrats Sheldon Whitehouse Tim Kaine

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