MONTPELIER — U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy is giving up his ranking member status on the Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of a leadership role on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Leahy, currently the Senate’s longest-serving member, announced his decision to his staff Wednesday morning, according to spokesman David Carle.
“The results of this election have reshaped the policymaking landscape in Washington and show the need for checks and balances, now that one party controls the White House as well as both houses of Congress,” Leahy said in a statement. “There are many challenges ahead. Against this new backdrop, I have decided that I will best be able to represent Vermonters’ voices, and reflect Vermont values and ideals, as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.”
Leahy turned down an opportunity in 2012 to become chairmen of the Appropriations Committee after the death of Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, but chose to remain at the helm of Judiciary.
The Judiciary Committee, which Leahy chaired when Democrats were in the majority and served in in recent years as ranking member under the Republican majority, is poised to be a key battleground as Republican President-elect Donald Trump prepares to appoint a ninth Supreme Court Justice following the death earlier this year of Antonin Scalia. Republicans in the Senate blocked President Barack Obama’s appointment to replace Scalia by refusing to hold confirmation hearings.
Leahy, who was re-elected to an eighth term last week, said he will remain a senior member of the Judiciary Committee but found greater value to Vermont in becoming the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee. Unlike most Senate committees, ranking member status in Appropriations caries the title of vice chair.
“I do not come to this decision lightly. Both the Appropriations Committee and the Judiciary Committee are on the front lines on so many of today’s pressing issues. These include the priorities we decide in funding the federal government in our annual appropriations bills, and the future of the Supreme Court,” Leahy said in his statement. “And as the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, I will continue to offer a strong and outspoken voice in defending our Constitution, protecting and promoting human and civil rights, defending Americans’ privacy, and fighting for judicial independence.”
As the committee’s vice chairman, Leahy will lead the Democratic members on the committee and will set the minority’s priorities. He will also be able to organize hearings and have more influence on the 12 annual appropriations bills. Leahy, who had a sizable staff as the ranking member of Judiciary, will have now have committee staff to aid him in Appropriations.
Leahy will also continue to serve on the Agriculture Committee and he will remain the most senior member of all three committees he serves on.
California Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein will succeed Leahy as the ranking member on Judiciary.
“It’s an honor and privilege to follow in the footsteps of Senator Leahy — one of the toughest, most effective senators I know — and become ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” she said in a statement.
Feinstein also made clear that she is prepared to fight back against Republican President-elect Donald Trump.
“When President-elect Trump is willing to support responsible policies and nominees, I’ll hear him out, but this committee has a vital role to protect the Constitution and scrutinize policies, senior officials and judges very carefully, and that’s what we intend to do,” Feinstein said. “We simply won’t stand aside and watch the tremendous successes achieved over the past eight years be swept away or allow our nation’s most vulnerable populations to be targeted.”
Meanwhile, Vermont’s junior senator, independent Bernie Sanders, was picked by the Democratic caucus for a leadership position in charge of outreach efforts. He will also serve as the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who was elected minority leader Wednesday, expanded the leadership team to include liberal and moderate Democrats.
Sanders issued a statement Wednesday after he selected to join the leadership team that seemed to summarize how he will approach his role as chair of outreach.
“Real change doesn’t take place on Capitol Hill. It takes place in grassroots America. It takes place when millions of working people, young people and senior citizens come together to demand that our government works for all of us and not just the 1 percent. When the people lead, the leaders follow,” he said.