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Leahy Wields Influence Over Guns, Immigration

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
As president pro tem and Judiciary chairman, Leahy has been tasked with shepherding immigration and gun control bills out of his committee in the coming weeks and months — both in regular order.

During the next few months, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy might be the most important Senate Democrat outside of Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Although the Vermont Democrat has been a fixture of the Senate for 38 years, the recently named president pro tem now finds himself at the center of two of the session’s most important debates and with one of the fullest legislative plates of any committee chairman since 2010.

Leahy has been tasked with shepherding immigration and gun control bills out of his committee in the coming weeks and months — both in regular order. For a chamber that spent the past two years in gridlock, it’s not an impossible task, but it won’t be easy either.

At a news conference last week, Reid was asked about the Judiciary Committee’s heavy workload and whether he had placed a priority on immigration over gun control or vice versa.

“We have one of the most senior members of the Senate who is chairman of that committee. He can do both. He can do both issues. And he’s going to do both issues. And we’re going to treat both issues the same way,” the Nevada Democrat said. “The Republicans — and rightfully so — feel better about bills that go through the committee structure. And we’re going to do that on immigration. We’re going to do it on violence, guns. Also, not only do Republicans feel better, so do we.”

Leahy, by virtue of his committee gavel, will largely determine which controversial issues get addressed in both measures. As the person who decides which version of both the gun violence and immigration bills to bring up, he will decide whether issues such as an assault weapons ban and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants get a leg up in the chairman’s mark.

When Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, died in December, Leahy passed on the opportunity take the helm of the powerful Appropriations Committee, deciding to stick with Judiciary instead. He made his announcement days after the shooting in Newtown, Conn., fully aware of President Barack Obama’s call to action on the issue.

An aide close to Leahy noted that the Judiciary Committee is one of the, if not the most, active committees in the Congress. “We have markups almost every single week, we have hearings every single week. The committee will be very busy, but he’s not afraid of a challenge,” the aide said.

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