Senate Rules Committee Beefs Up Staff

Posted December 31, 2008 at 11:30am

Incoming Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) plans to announce two major hires for the panel on Wednesday, just as the committee faces the daunting prospect of taking up a pair of controversial election-related cases in early days of the 111th Congress.

Schumer plans to bring on Jean Bordewich, current chief of staff to Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.), as Rules chief of staff and will move Jason Abel, one of his personal office’s legal counsels, into the Rules chief counsel slot, a source with knowledge of the hires said.

Though the Rules panel in recent years has largely performed routine tasks such as assigning office space and overseeing presidential inaugural ceremonies, Bordewich and Abel may have to hit the ground running: The normally sleepy committee has jurisdiction over disputed elections and the seating of Senators.

Those issues could come to a head early on if the panel has to help resolve the Minnesota recount in which about 50 votes currently separate Sen. Norm Coleman (R) from his Democratic challenger, comedian Al Franken. Franken holds the lead, and the state elections board could certify a winner by Tuesday. Regardless of whether the canvassing board declares a victor, the case will almost assuredly end up in court — with the loser mounting the challenge.

Meanwhile, the Rules Committee also may be thrust into the controversy over President-elect Barack Obama’s successor in the Senate. Even though Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) is facing federal charges that he attempted to sell Obama’s seat for political favors, he nonetheless has named former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to take the vacant seat. Senate Democratic leaders have flatly refused to seat Burris or anyone else appointed by Blagojevich, and Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has indicated that he will not sign the appointment papers.

Still, the case could come before the Rules Committee if Blagojevich sends the appointment to the Senate without White’s signature or sends it on a form that already bears his signature. But a Rules source said the Secretary of the Senate, who certifies appointments and election materials before they make it to the full Senate, might simply reject any form that does not appear to have the appropriate signatures.

Bordewich has worked for Hall for the past two years, but she previously served as Schumer’s Hudson Valley regional director. Schumer and Bordewich have known each other since 1970, when they were Congressional interns for different Members.