By: J. Taylor Rushing, The Hill
Democratic leaders are discussing a major reshuffling of Senate committee chairmanships, according to multiple sources, and the proposed changes include ousting Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) from his coveted chairmanship.
Lieberman, a former Democrat who supports Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for president, is likely to lose his gavel on the Homeland Security Committee he has chaired since January 2007, say the sources who see him being replaced by Sen. Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), the committeeâ€™s third-ranking Democrat.
Lieberman spokesman Marshall Witmann dismissed the speculation, saying Lieberman â€œis focused on doing all he can to elect John McCain as president rather than post-election Washington politics.â€
One Democratic source said Lieberman is not likely to lose his position in the Democratic caucus, even if the party picks up several seats in next weekâ€™s election. While Democrats could approach or exceed the filibuster-proof threshold of 60 votes, they may still need Liebermanâ€™s vote often.
â€œThereâ€™s no sense in cutting off our nose to spite our face,â€ one source said.
The proposed shakeup is hardly final, but it has begun to be sketched out on paper. It depends largely on a victory by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in the presidential election, which would result in Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), Obamaâ€™s running mate, giving up his chairmanship on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The shift also hinges on Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) stepping down as chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, which aides say is included in the proposed changes. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) would replace him. Byrd, who turns 91 in November, has been hospitalized three times this year and some have questioned if he is capable of leading the committee.
Other moves include Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) taking over the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) taking over the Senate Select Intelligence Committee and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) moving to the helm of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.
There is no set plan to replace Biden, but one source cited Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) as a possibility.
However, another Democratic source said Dodd is likely to hold onto his chairmanship of the Senate Banking Committee and be available to replace Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, should Kennedyâ€™s health fail.
Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer, signaled Tuesday that he would be returning to Washington and has requested workspace on the second floor of the Capitol.
Two sources say the request is â€œongoingâ€ to allow Kennedy some kind of work space that will allow him to focus on his signature issue, healthcare, with a Democratic presidency. Kennedy already has a third-floor hideaway in the Capitol, but work is ongoing to provide him with a second-floor space to eliminate the need to climb stairs or walk back and forth to his regular office in the Russell Senate Office Building.
Kennedy spokesman Anthony Coley said Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) offered Kennedy S-219, a room adjacent to Reidâ€™s office, which Democratic leaders currently use for press conferences.
â€œThe majority leader was gracious and kind enough to offer additional space and Sen. Kennedy is very appreciative,â€ Coley said.
Dodd himself said he has discussed the possibility of taking the helm of the Foreign Relations Committee from Biden, saying in an interview with The Hill last month that Biden has joked that Dodd only wants Obama to win the presidency so he can take Bidenâ€™s chairmanship.
A Dodd aide suggested that the Connecticut senator is inclined to stay where he is, noting that Dodd remains focused on the committeeâ€™s role in addressing the economic crisis.
â€œSen. Dodd is focused on a substantial agenda in each of his committees, both for the remainder of this Congress and next year,â€ said spokeswoman Kate Szostak. â€œAs chairman of the Banking Committee, he will be conducting vigilant oversight of the Treasury Departmentâ€™s implementation of the recently enacted financial rescue law, as well as examining additional steps to strengthen the U.S. economy.â€
Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), who is currently the Democratic Conference Secretary but has only a subcommittee chairmanship, is likely to take over the Veteransâ€™ Affairs Committee, while Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) would likely stay chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
Leahy still wants the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee, sources said, but also wants to be a key player in any Supreme Court nominations from an Obama presidency.
If Dodd does give up the Banking Committee, the responsibility is likely to fall to Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) instead of the next-most senior Democrat, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, who suffered a stroke in December 2006 and returned to the Senate in September 2007.
Underscoring the delicacy of the changes being considered, senators themselves are stridently avoiding any comment.
â€œI havenâ€™t talked to anyone, and no one has talked to me,â€ said Reed, who was in the Senate Tuesday for meetings.