“He did this to me two years ago. Now he’s put Amy and Debbie in the boat with me,” Durbin said of Whitehouse, who could be in the running for budget committee chair. He is doing very well for himself, and yet he continues this campaign.
It all comes to a head on Tuesday when Democrats are expected to debate the issue, among other things, before a vote on Thursday. Democrats said the caucus was divided enough that it was unclear whether Whitehouse’s proposed reform would win a majority in the secret ballot vote.
“Members have strong opinions. I think it’s a shared point of view. I don’t think that’s clear,” the senator said. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who was tasked with organizing the caucus debate on the rule changes and acknowledged a “possibility” that Whitehouse would win.
After Whitehouse launched a plan in late 2020 that would have barred Durbin from holding both the Judiciary Committee gavel and whip position in the last Congress, the senator. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) defused the situation by offering to redistribute the gavels of lower-ranking subcommittees. On Monday, Whitehouse declined to comment when asked about his amendment and opposition to it, telling POLITICO: “Caucus stuff stays in caucus.”
The Rhode Islander moves don’t come in isolation. Young Senate Democrats have chafed for years at what they see as a consolidation of power at the top — and in stark contrast to the GOP.
Senate Republicans are imposing term limits for committee heads and elected leaders, except for the position of GOP leader. And Senate Minority Whip John Thune (RS.D.) gave up his top spot on the Commerce Committee when he assumed the No. 2 job at the GOP conference.
“Republicans are much more Democratic in the way they elevate junior members into positions of power than we are,” Murphy said. “I don’t know if we want to become the Republican caucus, but I think it would make sense for us to think a little more about how we distribute power more equitably.”
If Democrats approve Whitehouse’s proposal, it would lead to a radical overhaul of the committee leadership or structure in 2025. The senator. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee, said he needed to talk to Whitehouse “before he puts me in the yes column.”
“Here’s the challenge: it would affect someone like Debbie. What does Debbie do? Come down from [leadership]? I think we need to have the conversation,” Tester said. “The biggest issue here that Sheldon is trying to address is shared power.”
Democrats will consider other changes to their caucus rules this week, including whether to seek to more strictly enforce debate time limits and streamline Senate roll-call votes, which are sometimes open for hours to wait for senators who arrive late. They will also consider proposals that would allocate more funds to subcommittees and allow these groups to hold more hearings.
But the main event is the Whitehouse plan. And some Democrats have defended it while maintaining they are undecided.
“Last year Sheldon made a similar proposal, but I also know he is proposing that this not take effect immediately,” said Whitehouse colleague Rhode Islander Sen. Jack Reed.