Democrats vote to let Durbin lead Judiciary while remaining whip

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Senate Democrats will allow Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin to take the helm of the powerful Judiciary Committee while holding on to his post in leadership, according to Democratic aides.

In a secret-ballot vote held Wednesday, senators approved a caucus rule change from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) that would let the whip also hold one gavel at a time; that means Durbin can serve in both positions, though he will be required to relinquish the top spot on an appropriations subcommittee, something he had already said that he would be willing to do.

Durbin (D-Ill.) faced a challenge in his bid to lead the Judiciary Committee from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who had his own proposal to prevent the whip from serving as ranking member or chair on a full committee.

The fight over who would lead the panel came after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced last month that she would be stepping down as the top Democrat on the committee in the next Congress. Feinstein’s departure came amid liberal frustration with her handling of Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

Some progressive groups, including Demand Justice, were pushing for Whitehouse to take the gavel over Durbin. Some on the left view Whitehouse as the kind of partisan brawler needed to confront Republicans, though Durbin also had the backing of other liberal activists.

Initially, both Whitehouse and Kaine’s amendments to caucus rules were approved, forcing Democrats to re-vote since both couldn’t be implemented.

Durbin’s effort to lead the Judiciary Committee had sparked a broader debate within the caucus over seniority and the concentration of power in the caucus. But despite some grumbling about the lack of upward mobility, there is clearly still resistance to major changes.

On Wednesday, Democrats also rejected proposals for term-limits as well as whether to postpone the discussions surrounding the rules changes for another two years.

The caucus did, however, adopt a proposal from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) that would bar members with premiere committee assignments from choosing a subcommittee until every other member of the caucus has the opportunity to select a subcommittee.

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