Specter Likely to Get New Judiciary Subcommittee

Posted April 29, 2009 at 1:24pm

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will likely create a new subcommittee for recent Democratic convert Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) to chair during this Congress, senior Senate Democratic sources said on Wednesday.It was unclear what the subcommittee’s jurisdiction would cover, but one senior Democrat said it would not be difficult to persuade other Judiciary subcommittee chairmen to give up part of their jurisdictions in order to cobble together something for Specter.Senate Democratic leaders have promised Specter — who served as the ranking member on Judiciary until he announced his party switch on Tuesday — that he would maintain his seniority on all panels. That will make him the second Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and fourth on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Democratic sources said creating a new subcommittee on the Appropriations panel was unrealistic for this Congress, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Tuesday that no gavels would be changing hands as a result of the commitment on Specter’s seniority.However, as Specter pointed out Tuesday, his seniority technically would allow him to displace Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) atop the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Heath and Human Services, and Education in the 112th Congress. Specter served as the ranking member on that subcommittee before his switch, and it has been one of his passions.But one well-placed Senate Democratic source said the hope is that there will be some Democratic attrition on Appropriations before the next Congress that will make room for Specter to claim a subcommittee. For example, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who sits on the committee, is widely expected to run for governor.Plus, Senate Democratic leaders have not yet figured out how to appoint their newest recruit to the panels he sat on as a Republican. Negotiations with Republicans on changing committee ratios will have to take place before that can happen, or a Democrat would have to vacate a spot on both the Judiciary and Appropriations panels to make room for Specter.Leahy has created panels for Members before. In 2007, he formed the Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law at the request of its eventual chairman, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). That panel, however, was not renewed in the 111th.