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Dodd Won’t Rule Out Succeeding Kennedy on HELP

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) on Wednesday did not rule out relinquishing his chairmanship of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs panel to take the gavel of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in the wake of HELP Chairman Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) death Tuesday night.However, Dodd emphasized in a conference call that he hasn’t given the decision much thought and wouldn’t anytime soon. Dodd, the No. 2 HELP Democrat who managed the committee as Kennedy battled brain cancer, said that right now he is focused on the loss of a “great, great pal.” “The words sort of leave you at a moment like this,” Dodd said. “To me, it’s the loss of a friend. I just lost my best friend in the Senate. We were great pals for many years.”“It’s going to be hard to go back to the Senate. It’s going to be hard not to see that phone ring and see that area code come up,” Dodd continued. “I’ve lost a great, great pal — a great friend, the best I’ve had in the Senate. And the country’s lost a great advocate.”The Connecticut Democrat, who faces a tough re-election battle next year, said he would confer with the Senate Democratic leadership at some point “down the road” in the health care debate. Dodd said he is too “consumed with grief” and wants to reserve judgment on how to handle his committee assignments.“I haven’t given that a second’s worth of thought,” he said “I’m going to stay on this committee. I intend to be deeply involved in the health care issue.”Should Dodd remain as Banking chairman, the next in line to take over HELP is the No. 3 Democrat, Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa). However, Harkin may be reluctant to give up the gavel of Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. If that is the case, the next in line to take over HELP according to seniority is Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.).Dodd said he expects Kennedy’s staff on the HELP Committee will continue to play a key role in the crafting of a final Senate health care bill. Kennedy’s staff is considered by Senators on both sides of the aisle to be among the most experienced on the issue on the Hill.Dodd said he remains optimistic that the Senate can approve a major health care overhaul this year. He said he was hopeful that “Teddy’s passing” will remind Senators that they were elected to “get a job done.”

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