One of the Senate’s biggest prizes is up for grabs if Democrats win back the majority in November: the chairmanship of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. But a number of senior senators may pass up the plum assignment as they angle for other influential gavels.
The top Democratic slot on the committee, which distributes more than $1 trillion to fund the government every year, is opening up with Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s retirement after this year. But while the position was once among the most sought-after, there has been little jockeying to date.
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The reasons vary. Democrats may very well fall short in their quest to seize the Senate in November, so some are reluctant to indulge in a hypothetical game of musical chairs. Other potential successors to the Marylander, however, are interested in leading other powerful committees, in the latest sign of appropriations’ declining influence. Democratic rules permit senators to chair only one committee, and some are likely to conclude their political or policy interests are better served elsewhere.
Mikulski has held the Appropriations position only because Sen. Patrick Leahy, the most senior Democrat in the Senate, chose to instead keep the top Democratic post on the Judiciary Committee. It’s an ideal spot for a former prosecutor to exert influence in a host of hot-button issues such as gun control, immigration, criminal justice and national security.
Leahy spokesman David Carle declined to comment on what committee the senator would pursue next year, particularly if Democrats win back the majority. But the Vermont senator has twice passed on the Appropriations Committee — after the 2012 and 2014 elections — suggesting his true interests lie with the Judiciary Committee.
Plus, if Senate Republicans continue to block the nomination of Merrick Garland through next year, Judiciary is guaranteed to have at least one Supreme …