Senators on Capitol Hill are mourning the loss of a colleague, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. He was a World War II veteran who served 50 years in the Senate before dying yesterday in Bethesda, Md., at the age of 88. His colleagues have been remembering him on the Senate floor today. As Alex Bolton, senior staff writer for The Hill newspaper, explains, they're also left to fill the void he leaves as President Pro Tem and Chairman of the Appropriations Committee and the Defense Appropriations Subcommitee.
A Senators try to reshuffle these posts, which lawmakers may slide into new positions?
"The death of Inouye creates a vacancy at the top of the Appropriations Committee. He had been the chairman of the Appopriations Committee since 2009. This sets up a domino of committee changes. What we're likely to see is that Pay Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, would move over to head of Appropriations. And then Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) would move up to chair Judiciary, leaving open the Intelligence Committee chairmanship. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), has a good shot of taking over that committee because the Democrat ahead of her in line, Ron Widen, would stick with the Energy Committee. Mikulski said today that she would be interested in the Intel Committee if she gets that opportunity. Her colleagues say she would do a great job."
"It all depends on Leahy. Leahy hasn't announced what he's going to do. When he was asked what he was going to do, he said he wanted to let some time pass before he makes a decision as to whether he will take over Appropriations. But he said that decision would take place in the next 24 hours. The other important committee assignment to watch is Defense Appropriations, which Inouye also chaired, which is obviously very important for the area, as it has oversight over weapons programs, defense spending, etc."
What kind of responsibilities would Sen. Mikulski have if she did take control of the intelligence committee?
"She would have oversight over the entire national intelligence community. That includes the CIA based in Langely, Va., that includes intelligence programs within the Defense Department. She would have jurisdiction over things in the news now, like the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, which had CIA operatives. She would have jurisdiction over the interrogation of suspected terrorists, which has been a hot-button issue."
How quickly do these changes have to be made?
"The changes have to be made by the beginning of next year, because that's when the new Congress starts and that's when committees start holding hearings. Right now, the committees aren't doing a lot of work. All the work on Capitol Hill is happening on the leadership level as Speaker John Boehner and President Obama try to figure out a deal for the fiscal cliff that is coming up."