U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the most senior Senate Democrat following the death of Hawaii’s Daniel Inouye earlier this week, announced today that he has decided to remain chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, rather than replacing Inouye as head of the Appropriations Committee. The Judiciary Committee will consider some gun control legislation next year and may hold Supreme Court confirmation hearings if a vacancy arises. Iowa’s Chuck Grassley is the ranking Republican on that committee.
Leahy’s decision would appear to have opened the door for Senator Tom Harkin to move to Appropriations. Harkin is the next most senior Senate Democrat, having been elected to the upper chamber of Congress for the first time in 1984. However, Leahy congratulated Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland for being the first woman to chair the Appropriations Committee. Mikulski has served in the Senate since 1987. UPDATE: Harkin also congratulated Mikulski today.
Harkin will remain chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, which is one of the most important Senate committees, but running Appropriations would have put him in an even stronger position. Like Steven Duffield, I want to hear the backstory on this one.
UPDATE: In a statement that I’ve enclosed after the jump (hat tip Bleeding Heartland user 2laneIA), Harkin said he chose to remain head of the HELP Committee “based on where my passion lies. This is my work, it is who I am, and these are the issues that define me.” He will chair the Appropriations subcommittee on health, education and labor.
Statement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) on His Decision to Remain Chairman of the HELP Committee
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today issued the following statement:
“Earlier today, I informed Majority Leader Reid of my intention to remain Chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. I made this decision based on where my passion lies. This is my work, it is who I am, and these are the issues that define me.
“I believe strongly that the erosion of the middle class, and growing income inequality, are among our most pressing issues as a country. To that end, I am committed to doing everything I can to reverse those trends. In the new Congress, I intend to move forward with bills to ensure that all Americans are able to achieve the promise of a quality education – beginning in early childhood, continuing through elementary and high school, and culminating with higher education. In addition, I have proposed a new type of pension plan, the USA Retirement plan, to provide Americans with a secure source of retirement income for life. I am committed to doing everything I can to see it enacted into law. I have also been working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, within the Administration, and throughout the employer community, to significantly increase the employment of individuals with disabilities, in order to continue to fulfill the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I am also committed to working closely with the Administration to ensure the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act, including the Prevention and Public Health title – an effort decades in the making to change our ‘sick care’ system into a genuine health care system. One of my goals is to push for legislation that raises the minimum wage, and for bills that help support working families. And, I want to ensure that all Americans are able to participate and be rewarded in the labor force based solely on their ability, qualifications, and performance.
“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.”