Durbin Offers Up Key Subcommittee Gavel to Specter

Posted May 7, 2009 at 9:03am

Updated: 11:16 a.m.Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has offered to give up a powerful subcommittee on the Judiciary Committee for recent Democratic convert, Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.).The move comes amid growing questions about what Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) promised to do for Specter when he decided to bolt the Republican Party last week. Originally, both Specter and Reid indicated that the five-term Pennsylvania Senator would keep his seniority on committees, which would have put him ahead of many Democrats on those panels. But on Tuesday, Reid demoted Specter to the lowest-ranking Democratic slots on the Judiciary, Appropriations, and Environment and Public Works panels.Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker confirmed that Durbin is set to relinquish the gavel of the Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs to Specter.However, Durbin expects the full committee to re-establish the now-defunct Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law so that Durbin will still chair a subpanel on Judiciary.Durbin chaired the Human Rights and the Law panel in the last Congress, but it was disbanded during the 111th. Reid signed off on the move, as did Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Judiciary Democrats. Shoemaker said the decision was made without regard to seniority, indicating that Specter has not necessarily leapfrogged over Durbin as the No. 5 Democrat on the panel.The Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs is considered the most prestigious of the subpanels on Judiciary, because it has jurisdiction over as much as 70 percent of the Justice Department’s budget and is responsible for writing crime and drug sentencing laws. In a statement Thursday, Durbin said, “Over the past several days, Senator Reid, Senator Leahy, Senator Specter and I have had a number of conversations about ways to best utilize Senator Specter’s talents and experience in our Caucus.—He added, “To that end, I have offered the gavel of the Crime and Drugs Subcommittee to Senator Specter who has been a leader on criminal justice issues for decades. As I have discussed with Senator Leahy and Senator Specter, I will continue to play a significant role on issues within the subcommittee’s jurisdiction — especially those affecting Illinois.—