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 Durbin (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 Feinstein (D-Calif.) is stepping down from the post.

Under a proposal from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Durbin would have to pick between the two positions, while under a competing proposal from Sen. Tim Kaine (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 Barrett’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 Schumer (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 Klobuchar (D-Minn.) offered a proposal involving full committee and ranking member positions while Sen. Chris Murphy (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. 

Tags Amy Coney Barrett Amy Klobuchar Chris Murphy Chuck Schumer Dianne Feinstein Dick Durbin Senate Democratic Caucus Sheldon Whitehouse Tim Kaine

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