UPI's Capital Comment for Nov. 7, 2002

By United Press International  |  Nov. 7, 2002 at 7:49 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Capital Comment -- Daily news notes, political rumors, and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.

Senate shifts -- As a result of Tuesday's election, the Republicans are once again the majority party in the U.S. Senate. Prior to the election, Senate Democrats led the chamber with the assistance of Republican-turned-Independent Jim Jeffords of Vermont.

The death of Minnesota Democrat Paul Wellstone created a vacancy that has been filled by Dean Barkley, an Independent named to the seat by Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who is also an Independent.

The contest in Missouri between Democrat Jean Carnahan and Republican Jim Talent was a special rather than general election, meaning the winner is to be seated immediately rather than in January when the other new senators elected last Tuesday begin their terms. Talent is scheduled to arrive in the senate next week, changing the partisan split in the chamber to 48 Democrats plus Jim Jeffords against 50 Republicans, with the addition of Talent, and Barkley.

It is not certain how Barkley would vote to organize the chamber, where he will serve until in early January, but that likely will not matter. The Republicans will, from a partisan standpoint, have control of the Senate floor through a lame duck session because they have the majority.

They will not, however, take over the committee chairmanships until January when the Senate must reorganize.

Chaining chairmanships can only be done through a resolution that Democrats -- and Jeffords -- would likely oppose.

In order to overcome that opposition, if it is presented in the form of a filibuster, Republicans would need to find 60 votes to cut off the debate -- something sources in both parties say is a fight not worth having over less than two months of business.

Both parties will pick new leadership in the coming weeks. On Nov. 14, the GOP Conference will meet to select their team. Sources familiar with the races say that unanimous consent exists to keep Republican Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., in the top job. This is something of a reversal of fortune for Lott, who most observers thought would be deposed by his party colleagues shortly after the Jeffords defection.

Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., is a victim of term limits and will be stepping down as minority whip. His post, the No. 2 position in leadership, is expected to go to Kentucky GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell. Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum will remain as conference chairman.

The remainder of the leadership posts will go to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, as conference vice-chairman; Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who will be the new chairman of the Republican Policy Committee; and Sen. Jefferson Sessions, R-Ala., who will head up Senate Steering.

On the other side of the aisle, most of the party leadership seems assured of another term. Not so Senate Democrat Leader Tom Daschle, who may be subject to a challenge from the left. Rumors abound that a number of senators have approached Connecticut's Chris Dodd about running against Daschle.

In June of 2001, Senate Republicans adopted a new rule to limit the terms of committee chairmen to six years -- plus an additional six years as ranking member, or most senior member not of the party in power, of a committee. Sources inside the GOP leadership say the six-year chairmanship is absolute -- meaning that a committee's ranking member who has already served six years as chairman of that committee may not take back the gavel if control of the chamber switches back to the Republicans.

That rule, and whether it went into effect from the day it was adopted forward or from the day the GOP assumed the majority in 1995, will certainly be a topic of discussion at next week's conference. If the conference does conclude that the limits are retroactive, then the only one affected would be Utah's Orrin Hatch, who first gaveled the Senate Judiciary Committee to order in January 1995.

The committee chairman line up as follows:

-- Agriculture -- Thad Cochran of Mississippi; he replaces Dick Lugar of Indiana, who moves to Foreign Relations;

-- Appropriations -- Ted Stevens of Alaska, who first became chairman of the committee in 1997;

-- Armed Services -- John Warner of Virginia, who took over the committee in 1999 from South Carolina's Strom Thurmond;

-- Banking -- Richard Shelby of Alabama, who replaces Phil Gramm of Texas;

-- Budget -- Don Nickles of Oklahoma, who is leaving the elected leadership because of term limits;

-- Commerce -- John McCain of Arizona, who became chairman of the committee in 1997 and would not be effected by the six-year limit;

-- Energy and National Resources -- New Mexico's Pete Domenici, who is moving over from the chairmanship of the Budget Committee. He will replace Frank Murkowski of Alaska, who was elected governor on Nov. 5;

-- Environment and Public Works -- Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, replacing Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire;

-- Finance -- Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who held the gavel briefly in 2001 after the November 2000 defeat of Delaware Sen. Bill Roth;

-- Foreign Relations -- Richard Lugar of Indiana, who replace the newly retired Jesse Helms of North Carolina;

-- Government Affairs -- Susan Collins of Maine, who replaces the newly retired Fred Thompson of Tennessee;

-- Health, Education, Labor and Pensions -- Judd Gregg of New Hampshire;

-- Judiciary -- Orrin Hatch of Utah, who first became chairman in January 1995. If the term limit applies retroactively, Hatch would have to pass the gavel to the next most senior Republican, Chuck Grassley of Iowa. If Grassley decides to stay with Finance, the next senator in line is Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, one of the most liberal members of the conference.

-- Rules -- Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who steps in for Kentucky's Mitch McConnell. GOP internal rules do not permit the leader of the whip to chair a full committee. If McConnell loses the whip's race, which most GOP insiders consider unlikely, then he could claim the Rules Committee chairmanship;

-- Small Business -- Christopher 'Kit' Bond of Missouri;

-- Veterans Affairs -- Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, unless he becomes chairman of the Judiciary Committee because of the way in which the term limits provision is interpreted. In that case, the gavel would pass to either Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado or Larry Craig of Idaho.

Republican insiders say the whole business will be worked out at next week's meeting.

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