The shake-up of committees also was going on in the Senate but behind the scenes. Democratic leaders have already signaled their desire to remove Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) from atop the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, based on his aggressive attacks against President-elect Obama during the campaign and his endorsement of Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is expected to meet with Lieberman Thursday. Democratic aides have repeatedly said that Lieberman is likely to lose his chairmanship but not be kicked out of the caucus.
Democratic leaders have also been mulling whether to replace ailing 90-year-old Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) by making him chairman emeritus. He would likely be replaced by the next-most-senior appropriator, 84-year-old Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). If Inouye takes Appropriations, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) would likely take over as chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation panel.
Its unclear whether Inouye, who ran afoul of Democratic leaders this election cycle by making a last-ditch push for the re-election of his good friend Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), might be punished along the same lines as Lieberman for his lack of party loyalty. Stevens was convicted last week of seven felony counts of lying about gifts he received on financial disclosure forms, and Inouye put out a statement saying Stevens would likely be able to serve in the Senate while his case is appealed. Reid strongly disputed Inouyes 11th-hour assertion, saying Stevens would face expulsion from the chamber based on his conviction.
Sen. Joseph Bidens (D-Del.) election as vice president creates an opening on the Foreign Relations Committee. Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) is next in line but is expected to stick with the Banking panel. That would put Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) at the helm of Foreign Relations.
If history is any guide, Democrats will be able to add at least one extra seat to their majority on every committee, based on the five seats they picked up Tuesday night. If they were to win all four of the undecided Senate races, they could make an argument to increase their committee majority from two seats to three, but Republicans have the ability to filibuster any organizing resolution setting committee ratios.
One former Senate GOP leadership aide said Republicans would likely point to a two-seat advantage as the precedent if Democrats do not win any more seats, but that Democrats would probably argue for a three-seat majority regardless.
If Democrats have a majority above 56, the aide said, it will be harder [for Republicans] to fend them off from achieving a three-seat advantage on committees.
But one senior Senate Democratic aide said it was unlikely that Democrats would seek a three-seat advantage even if they win close elections in Oregon, Minnesota, Georgia and Alaska.
Either way, the aide said, Republicans will likely press to enlarge the total number of Senators permitted to sit on committees so their Members can keep their seats. If the total number of seats on each panel remained the same, many less-senior Republicans would likely be forced to give up plum assignments to make room for the enhanced Democratic majority.