Durbin's fate unclear after rule change vote sparks disarray

A fight among Senate Democrats about top leadership positions is going into overtime after an initial round of voting on Wednesday resulted in two contradictory proposals getting enough votes to pass.

Democrats were expected to resolve a battle over whether Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinWhat's worse, violence on the left or the right? It's a dangerous question Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks National Sheriffs' Association backs Biden pick for key DOJ role MORE (D-Ill.) can hold both the whip position, the caucus's No. 2 spot, and be the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, a position he is vying for because Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDemocrats worry Senate will be graveyard for Biden agenda Pro-Choice Caucus asks Biden to remove abortion fund restrictions from 2022 budget China has already infiltrated America's institutions MORE (D-Calif.) is stepping down from the post.

Under a proposal from Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseIntelligence community investigating links between lawmakers, Capitol rioters FBI director commits to providing Senate information after grilling from Democrat Biden nominee previews post-Trump trade agenda MORE (D-R.I.), Durbin would have to pick between the two positions, while under a competing proposal from Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Overnight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Biden called off second military target in Syria minutes before strike: report MORE (D-Va.) Durbin could serve as both, but would have to give up his position as the top Democrat on the Appropriations panel's defense subcommittee.


Senators were expected to resolve that dispute during a two-hour secret ballot vote that took place Wednesday. Instead, both Whitehouse's and Kaine's proposals got enough votes to pass.

"That's what I understand," Durbin said when asked if both proposals passed during Wednesday's votes.

Whitehouse chalked up the confusion to a badly designed ballot where senators were allowed to vote for the two competing proposals instead of having to pick between them.

"I can tell you that what was supposed to be an A or B vote, was yes-no, yes-no vote," Whitehouse said.

"There's a flaw in the ballot, and therefore we need to revote. And that's what we'll do," Whitehouse said.


Both Durbin and Whitehouse confirmed that the caucus will vote again on the rules change proposals. A source familiar with the matter said the revote was happening as of late Wednesday afternoon. 

Wednesday's vote was supposed to end the weeks-long debate over who would succeed Feinstein, who will stay on the committee but give up the top Democratic spot after fierce backlash from progressives over her handling of Justice Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettBarrett authors first Supreme Court majority opinion against environmental group Justices raise bar for noncitizens to challenge removal from US after conviction Bill introduced to create RBG monument on Capitol Hill MORE’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

Whitehouse, who has been tight-lipped throughout the fight, is next in line behind Durbin on the Judiciary Committee and interested in succeeding Feinstein.

No caucus rule currently prevents Durbin from both being whip and taking over the top Democratic spot on the Judiciary Committee, but his effort to succeed the California Democrat sparked a larger battle that tapped into pent-up frustration from younger members in the Senate Democratic caucus about a perceived bottleneck in climbing the hierarchy ladder.

Durbin has indicated that he was willing to give up his spot as the top Democrat on the Appropriations defense subcommittee, in compliance with Kaine’s proposal. Kaine’s proposal would also prevent Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerRon Johnson forces reading of 628-page Senate coronavirus relief bill on floor Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra House Democrats' ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade MORE (D-N.Y.), as the Democratic leader, from wielding a gavel. 


In addition to resolving the question over Durbin’s future, the caucus also voted Wednesday on proposals involving top committee and subcommittee positions more broadly.

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference Klobuchar, Murkowski urge FTC to protect domestic abuse victims' data MORE (D-Minn.) offered a proposal involving full committee and ranking member positions while Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyBiden reignites war powers fight with Syria strike Gun violence prevention groups optimistic background check legislation can pass this Congress Democrats reintroduce gun sale background check legislation MORE (D-Conn.) offered a proposal on reallocating top Democratic positions on subcommittees.

It wasn’t immediately clear if those were part of the second voting round.